My Experience with Futurospectives: What, When, How.

The practicalities of Futurospective as a powerful intervention.

Everyone knows about retrospectives. Indeed, this topic has become a buzzword nowadays. More often, it is merely confused with the post mortem analysis. But in general, this tool is a powerful one for teams that seek to improve themselves and the environment around them continuously and inevitably.

From time to time I have been noticing that teams are too focused internally and on the short term. For that case, I use another kind of intervention — futurospective. So, I wanted to share my experience with this technique.

What does futurospective mean?

Futurospective is the specific approach that focuses on the future time instead of the past cadence. The idea behind the tool is to inspire a proactive attitude for a team to influence the environment around them.

When does futurospective make sense?

Through my experience, it can be a valuable event in the following scenarios:

  • Work cadences are short (1–2 weeks);
  • The level of uncertainty is high; a team becomes firefighters;
  • Some retrospective items start repeating themselves quite often;
  • Too much internal focus, a team tends to focus on past issues and react to them rather than preventing them;
  • Too much local attention, a team starts excluding the environmental perspective from retrospectives;
  • Usual retrospectives become boring; a team requires some shaking up.

The necessary stuff.

Sticky notes, sharpies, whiteboard. Chairs and table would also be helpful.

Let’s go to the agenda!

Set the stage — Show Me Your Face (10 min).

There is an extensive set of techniques regarding the warm-up or ‘setting the stage.’ You can choose them dependently on the previous background of a team, i.e., they are working close to each other, what the general mood is, the state of the environment, etc.

For example, it can be the ‘Show Me Your Face’ exercise. Everyone is drawing a face answering the question ‘How do you feel about the previous time? Show me your face’. Then inspire people to tell their stories. It is also can be connected with the Happiness Index if a team puts pictures against a scale of general satisfaction. In that case, please do not forget that you need to keep results and evaluate this Index from time to time tracking the dynamics.

The example of the exercise + Happiness Index.

Gather data — Magic Land (30 min).

My favorite tool to gather the data during a futurospective is a tale about Magic Land (if someone knows the correct name, please let me know=)). The important thing is to draw the picture while talking. Otherwise, you can prepare a good poster in advance.

First off, I tell the short story about the bright future everyone can imagine at every moment. My goal is to explain to a team that we are going to look forward instead of analyzing what has happened before. Starting with the green whiteboard marker, I draw a shapeless thing on the board, which I call ‘Magic Land.’ This area is about everything good we can build up for our future — a final product release, any personal achievements. If a team struggles with the abstract future, it is also great to set up the limit like ‘1 year’ or ‘the last day before the final release.

The next picture following your story is a kind of a mountain or an iceberg (red marker). It should represent risks and challenges that wait for us on the way to Magic Land. Taking into account a current project situation and environment, a team can predict what kind of issues it spawns.

The next pictogram shows a little flying man (blue). It is all about people. Examples of possible questions include ‘who are we as a team?’, ‘what do we expect from each other and stakeholders?’, ‘what kind of personalities are we / should we become to overcome challenges?’.

The last image is a catapult (orange). The catapult is a metaphor of the impulse. It can be anything that supports us in our journey including processes, tools, etc. The idea behind the impulse is ‘what helps us to start right now?’, ‘where can we start from?’, ‘what will help us on the way?’ etc.

The example of the Magic Land board.

After completing the story, encourage people to turn on their imagination and fill up the board with sticky notes.

Generate Insights — Open discussion (15 min).

Look on the board. You have a lot of cards on it. Start from self-presentations — everyone tells the story from Magic Land to Impulse. During this stage, encourage teammates to ask questions and find patterns between each other’s cards. If you do everything right, during the open discussion, a team starts looking at next steps. For example, from the People section, someone can identify the expected behavior a team needs to follow or support to face challenges. Your role includes reflecting and asking open questions to continue the discussion.

Decide what to do — Limited action plan (15 min).

Gradually, the previous stage leads to the action plan creation. Usually, I suggest using the short term (1–2 sprints) to make sure that action items are trackable and actual. The interesting case here is that I ask people to generate action items for themselves personally. That is how each teammate can contribute to the team journey towards Magic Land. Then they present action items to the rest of a team making a personal commitment.

Also, if you see that some action items cannot be time-boxed, it is a good point to create/update the team agreements. So not does a team form the action items for the next couple of weeks, but generates long-term behavior patterns to succeed.

Closure — Kudos + SaLoMo (10 min).

At the end of a futurospective, I thank everyone for being honest and open. To complete the session on the high note, I ask everyone to write and present Kudo Cards to teammates. It is a written and public recognition of a colleague for something she has contributed to the team. No limits here, everyone chooses a recipient or decide not to do it. Sometimes, people write Kudos to Team which is a great sign of the spirit.

For the feedback to a facilitator, you can use SaLoMo. I like this tool because it is not about how cool you are (like Appreciation Wall), but for clear action items for the next session. It is a combination of statements ‘Same Of’, ‘Less Of,’ ‘More Of’ that helps you update your agenda and the facilitation style.

Do not forget to keep the final poster to use it for later interventions!

The full futurospective board.

As a result, a team takes action items, new agreements, reloaded goals and expectations, and fuel to go through challenges. Futurospective is a great tool to see beyond the horizon and inspire teams on their way to excellence.



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