Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Articles Retrospectives Applied as “PROspectives"

Retrospectives Applied as “PROspectives"

We can view all situations in our work (and life!) as opportunities from which to learn how to better handle similar situations in future. Looking back and asking, “How did I manage to…” is useful, but the more essential question is “How will I deal with future situations like this to improve my results?”

I call such reflections “PROspectives” instead of “retrospectives”.

We learn for the future many times every day. We learn to be on time at the bus stop, to deal with a new feature on our smartphone, to discuss in more useful ways with our boss.

And we know the more we reflect, the more we learn and improve.

Yet we often forget to use such learning opportunities during longer situations and processes. How often do you reflect on how you organize the eight hours of your workday? Or your weekend? Or how you managed to complete a specific and complex work package within a period of three weeks?

Furthermore, we seldom use this approach together with our co-workers or partners. How often do you analyze the way you together with your family managed your holiday? Or consider with your partner how to deal with the housekeeping? Or reflect with your team about how you managed your teamwork over the last four hours or five days?

Let’s be honest. Normally, we only undertake such reflections if we are forced to, especially in critical and unexpected situations. That means under time pressure and emotionalized:

“The dishwasher has been filled with dirty dishes for two days! It’s ALWAYS up to me to turn it on!” (But right now, you both have to leave for the theatre…)

“AB36CZ is not working - and we have to deliver it today at 6:00 p.m.! It was your job AGAIN, Bill, to do this. We cannot trust your commitments!” (And it is 2:00 p.m. with about six hours of work to do).

It might be helpful to increase the motivation to reflect regularly or more often, independently of acute, unexpected problems and without time pressure?

First of all:

  • Avoid making a reflection session seem to be a psychological or therapeutic session.

And make clear that:

  • such a session is a short (but not too short or terse) event with a chance to celebrate and sustain all that is working reasonably well (and offer some coffee and cake to celebrate!) and to uncover ideas for perhaps small future improvements.
  • it is, to keep it short, not a review to analyze failures and to invest a lot of time to dig out root causes, and to point fingers at people responsible for failures.

All this is supported by calling these events “PROspectives”.

Following Norman L. Kerth’s Mining for Gold Exercise, these are the core issues of a PROspective:

     What worked well that we don’t want to forget?
     This list is for those things that most agree worked well and that we want to continue doing on      the next project. 

     What did we learn?
     Here is where we document causes and effects that have lead to learning.

     What should we do differently next time?
     This list is for issues that need to be done better next time.

     What still puzzles us?
     This list is for issues that the project team doesn’t have enough information or skill to resolve.      The issues on this list often require training or more thorough investigation.

     What do we need to discuss in more detail?
     Issues on this list are things that need further discussion, clarification, information, etc.  

Steps to handle core issues:  

  1. Warm up --> Platform for confidence and trust
  2. Sprint- (release-) panorama
  3. Appreciate what is working well and sustain and increase it with the UUS tool
  4. Find specific actions items for improvements with the PLUS tool
  5. If necessary, apply the impediment solvent
  6. Second-order PROspective
  7. Teamwork Backlog

The following suggestions apply to a PROspective held at the end of a time-boxed phase of work by which the team delivered a useful result either for specific stakeholders or for the team itself as a prerequisite for the next time box.

The time box might be something like a sprint of one to four weeks (typical for agile development practices) or could last about two to four months for a release.

If you apply a PROspective to a work process longer than four months - maybe as a debriefing or post mortem reflection of a whole project - be aware that you might not find enough learning and improvement opportunities because there might be not many or even any sufficiently similar situations in future.

A PROspective is too heavy a method for shorter phases of work, like only several hours. You’d be better off with something leaner, for example slide 24 (Reflect the Process). If you want to apply these suggestions to produce results other than at the end of a time-boxed phase of work, you may take these steps as inspiration for an adapted version appropriate for your situation.

The steps of a process-pattern to perform a PROspective are a pattern, not a cookbook. Always adapt it to make it appropriate for the specific context.

A PROspective that covers a time box of about two to four weeks of work should require two hours to complete. At the end of two to six months of work, it should take about three hours. In any case, avoid a strict time limit. Respect the needs of the participants to have enough time to reflect, learn, and invent actions for improvements. Too much steering will kill creativity. Take in account these two of the four principles of Open Space:

Whatever happens is the only thing that could've.

When it's over, it's over.

Don’t worry if the PROspective needs more time than planned. As long as the participants - the owners and beneficiaries of the PROspective - are willing to continue, it is fine. You, as the facilitator, are responsible for keeping the process on track to enable reflection, learning, and inventing actions for improvements. If you think the team has lost track of that and the meeting has become a waste of time then share that impression with the participants. If they want to go on anyway, it is their decision. You are the enabler, not the director.

1. Warm up --> Platform for confidence and trust 

Don’t start with funny warm-up games!

You are working as an adult with adults. To start a PROspective by playing with balls, for example, may undermine the PROspective’s reputation and intent as an event for learning and improvement in a context of professional business-driven work. Some participants may think that they slipped into a therapeutic encounter group.

Instead, keep it lean and focused on the outcome.

Offer this PROspective manifesto (on a flipchart on the wall):

We intend to create learning and improvement for our future way of work by

  • uncovering, sustaining, and enhancing our success patterns
  • seeking improvements
  • learning from and with each other
  • defining concrete actions and tasks to improve our future way of work so that the effort invested in this PROspective is paid back to each of us 

If you, as the facilitator of the PROspective, can see strong signs that all participants support this manifesto, you can go to step two.

If you suspect that there may be some aloofness to one or more points, it is important to work out just how far the participants accept this manifesto. Scaling Poker may be useful for that:

Give this scale:

0 = I disagree with the manifesto completely

10 = I fully support the manifesto

Have participants write their score from 0 to 10 on a small card and put the cards backside up in a pile on the table. The facilitator shuffles the cards, turns them over, and sorts them into columns to build a bar chart on the table:

The facilitator firstly appreciates the high scores (8, 9, 10 in this example) and explicitly accepts the moderate scores (5 and 6).

Next, the facilitator asks the participants to split into small circles of two or three people to consider these issues:

  • How can the success of this PROspective be supported, taking in account the aloofness to one or more points of the PROspective manifesto?
  • What show stoppers must be avoided?

Each circle writes its ideas on sticky note and adds it to the bar chart: 


The facilitator thanks all for their ideas, mounts all notes on the flipchart with the PROspective manifesto, and expresses confidence that the PROspective will work fine by keeping in mind the manifesto and the additional notes.

The facilitator must also accept unrealistic ideas like “Don’t take longer than 20 minutes so we can return to our work.” But 20 minutes later he can ask all participants, as the owners and beneficiaries of the PROspective, if they want to continue. It is up to THEM, not to the facilitator, to decide this.

Remove the bar chart from the table. It has done its job.

If there are HEAVY concerns, the facilitator has to moderate a solution-focused conversation (see What is SF?) with all participants on how to deal with them.

Don’t start with the next step of the PROspective as long as there is still any heavy concern or aloofness against the PROspective manifesto. At worst, find a new date for the PROspective and use the time to build a better platform. 

2. Sprint- (release-) panorama

2.1. Brainstorming 

Draw a grid on a wall:

Each participant writes significant occurrences, situations or activities on sticky notes and places them on this grid. 


  • Use specific occurrences, situations or activities, not general statements
  • Do not allow discussions or deals among participants

2.2. Reflecting the panorama in pairs 

In pairs, participants reflect on the panorama. They may move or rework their own sticky notes but not those of others. Discussion may take place only within the pairs.

2.3. Refactoring and clustering all together 

All participants as a team change, remove, or add sticky notes.

All notes that belong to the same or similar topics or aspect are marked as such, maybe with colored glue dots.

  • This should take no more than 15 minutes. No exhausting discussions!


2.4. All together: Selecting the hot spots 

All participants as a team select the two or three most important topics, aspects, or standalone issues (such as number three below) that worked well.

The team also selects the two or three most important topics, aspects, or standalone issues which must be significantly improved.


3. Appreciate all that is working well and sustain and increase it with the UUS tool

Work out for the up to three best things:

(Based on the micro tools developed by Michael Hjerth,


  • How do you know that it was successful? (Ask “What else?” to find more than one aspect.)
  • How can others recognize that is was successful? (This is a typical systemic question to change the focus by slipping into the shoes of others to uncover more signs of success.)


  • How did you do that? What else?
  • What did you learn from it?


  • What will you do more as a result of this, to sustain or even increase it?
  • What needs to be the very first step? How will you know that this step was successful? --> Put this in the Teamwork Backlog.
  • What will you do differently as a result of this to sustain or even increase it?
  • What needs to be the very first step? How will you know that this step was successful? --> Put this in the Teamwork Backlog.

Why is it important to invest so much effort to reflect upon what is working well?

Imagine a family that only mentions what is bad and not working. No one says a word about the good things. This family will find it hard to appreciate their few good experiences, at least. The family cannot cultivate good experiences or grow. Imagine the mood…and how the family will sort through tough situations.

Understand that we are not asking facilitators and participants to only discuss positive aspects and to neglect difficulties, problems, and failures. But do take care of what has been working based on the resources to sustain those practices. Otherwise, they will wither and vanish. No athlete will improve through only excercizing his weak muscles. He has to take care of his top-performing muscles with the same or even greater intensity.

4. Find specific action items for improvements with the PLUS tool

Work out for the up to three things to be improved:

(Based on the micro tools developed by Michael Hjerth,

PLATFORM: The point of departure for searching for what works and what should be improved or changed

  • What is your concern? What bothers you?
  • What is the broader task or job? What is its purpose?
  • How does your concern affect this purpose? 


  • Suppose you have worked out a way to change the recent situation:
  • What is your best hope as a result of this?
  • What is the least that you need to see happen?


  • Imagine a scale from 0 to 10 where the 10 stands for your best hope:
  • Where on that scale would you place the recent situation?
  • How have you managed the recent situation so that you place it here (e.g. on a 3) and not one or two points lower on that scale? (e.g. as a 2 or 1)
  • How have you managed to live with the recent situation? (Ask “What else?” to find more than one aspect.)
  • When has it been a bit better, if at all? How did you contribute to this positive difference? (Ask “What else?” to find more than one aspect.) 


  • What can you do now to rise, maybe by one point only, on the scale?
  • What needs to come as the very first step? How will you notice that this step was successful? --> Put this in the Teamwork Backlog.

It is important here to avoid the words “problem” and “solution”.

The word “problem” often connotes something that is given and not changeable. It’s an inescapable fact. It’s said that problems are problems because we call them problems. It’s better to talk about “situations”. Situations are fluid and can have different colors: stressing one person; motivating others; preferred; changing; long-lasting; appropriate; hindering; sustaining…

(Of course, a complicated “chess problem” can be challenging in a positive way. The emotional ascription of “problem” depends on the context.)

The word “solution” often is associated with the “solved problem” as a persistent result rather than as an adaptive, step-by-step process towards a changed (and hopefully better fitting) situation. Politicians and tough managers will say, “We have the solution for xyz.” I prefer to talk about “changing the situation” rather than finding a definite “solution”.

5. If necessary, apply the impediment-solvent

If you find that at STEPPING THE SCALE that a serious impediment seems to block the next, even small step, you may apply the following impediment solvent”.

5.1. How easy is it to eliminate or bypass this impediment?

Have the team estimate the ease of eliminating or only bypassing the obstacle from 0 (absolutely no chance) to 10 (very easy). This is the same as planning poker or a magic estimation.


Ah, a 3! 

5.2. What makes this chance a 3 and not a 2 or even a 1? What else? What else? What else?


5.3. What can you do, using what is already available, to eliminate or to bypass this impediment? 

  • Which are the first concrete, small, possible steps? What else? What else?
  • Which of those steps is the easiest?
  • Who makes this step together with whom?
  • How will you know that this step was successful? --> Put this in the Teamwork Backlog. 

5.4. Imagine that the chance to eliminate or to bypass this impediment is a 4 or 5. 


  • What is the difference between the 3-rated chance to eliminate/bypass the impediment and the chance rated 4 or 5 to eliminate/bypass the impediment?
  • How can you contribute to increasing the chance from a 3 to a 4 or 5? What else? What else?
  • What might be the easiest of these alternatives?
  • What is a very first concrete and small step toward a 4 or 5?
  • Who makes this step together with whom?
  • How will you know that this step was successful? --> Put this in the Teamwork Backlog.

The mechanism of this impediment solvent is based on five ingredients:

  1. In step 5.1, the intention to eliminate or reduce the impediment is expanded to the alternative possibility to bypass the impediment. Very often, bypassing is not seen as an option. We often fixate on eliminating/reducing only.
  2. In step 5.2, the focus shifts from “how to eliminate/bypass” the impediment to the chance to do so and available resources that contribute to this chance.
  3. In step 5.3, these now uncovered resources are used as tools for a first step to eliminate/bypass the impediment. The “What else? What else?” questions broaden the spectrum of alternatives.
  4. In step 5.4 a slightly enhanced chance is imagined and possible alternatives for own contributions are explored
  5. All this helps us to escape, step by step, from the “problem” trance that typically makes impediments seem indomitable at first. As long as we stay in this trance, we will either be frozen or will try to handle the impediment in a traditional way with a limited set of methods.

6. Second-order PROspective

This is the PROspective of the PROspective meant to gather learning to improve the next PROspective. For this, we use the UUS tool:


  • What were the best things we did during this PROspective?
  • What will others who hear/see the results of our PROspective say was the best?


  • How did we do that?
  • What did we learn from it?


  • What will we do more of as a result of this? Put it in the --> Teamwork Backlog.
  • What will we do differently as a result of this? Put it in the --> Teamwork Backlog.

7. Teamwork Backlog

All participants as a team

  • Consolidate the Teamwork Backlog (clustering similar next steps, maybe rephrasing some steps, ordering the steps).
  • Visualize it as a task board or Kanban board.
  • Agree on how to manage and monitor the execution of the planned steps (maybe by having once or twice a week a short team aperitif (or beer) that works like a daily standup in front of the teamwork task board).

Conclusions and further reading

This kind of PROspective is in line with important core principles and values behind lean and agile:

  • Working towards a “preferred situation” as a vision
  • Observe and adapt
  • Act with small steps
  • Respect people and their needs
  • Build on and sustain what works
  • Search and use existing resources and opportunities

Don’t confuse a PROspective with naive positive thinking and don’t see it as an invitation to put on rose-colored glasses. It is an offer to handle situations that are working poorly or not well enough in a constructive and respectful way.

This way is called “solution-focused work”. You are invited to read this brief introduction and to learn a bit more by reading this article. You may find much more about solution-focused work in organizations at Jumpstart into Solution Focus.

Of course, the wording “solution-focused” (or “solution orientation”) may be misleading, as I explained in step 4 above. Inspired by the work of Tomasz Switek, I prefer to use “solution and situation focus”.

About the Author

Dr. Hans-Peter Korn works in organisation development, personnel development, and change and knowledge management. He has recent experience as agile coach and consultant with a pragmatic understanding of agile derived from his work in large enterprises. He is co-editor and author of the books Agiles IT-Management in großen Unternehmen, Symposion Publishing 2013 and Solution-Focused Management, Hampp 2006.

Rate this Article