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Liberating Structures for Scrum, Part 1: The Sprint Retrospective

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Liberating Structures for Scrum, Part 1: The Sprint Retrospective

Used indiviually or chained together, Liberating Structures create a novel way to conduct the Sprint Retrospective.

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A few weeks ago, I started an event series with my Berlin-based Hands-on Agile Meetup group on how to improve Scrum events utilizing Liberating Structures — a set of easy to learn, yet powerful ways to collaborate as a team. The results have been fantastic so far, and I like to share these outcomes with those who cannot participate in person.

In this first post, learn more on how you can use Liberating Structures strings to improve the level of collaboration and engagement at Sprint Retrospectives.

Liberating Structures for Scrum (1): The Sprint Retrospective — Age-of-Product.com

Liberating Structures — An Introduction

Created by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, Liberating Structures cover a set of easy to learn, yet powerful ways to collaborate as a team — even as a (very) large team by Scrum standards — by overcoming traditional communications approaches like presentations, managed discussions, or another disorganized brainstorming where the loudest participants tend to prevail.

What I find most compelling about Liberating Structures (LS) and Scrum is two things:

  1. You can combine multiple LS microstructures — there are currently 33 of those plus several experimental ones — to strings of microstructures and even nest them within each other,
  2. The LS microstructures are simple to learn so that a facilitator does not need to consider training Liberating Structures in advance. It is ensured that everyone participating in the Scrum event will be included and given a voice.

In my experience, this makes tailoring, for example, a Sprint Retrospective format to a specific situation simple without being too time-consuming. It also prevents boredom from kicking in by comparison to the basic “good, bad, action item”-style Sprint Retrospective.

Liberating Structures at the Hands-on Agile Meetup Community

By Scrum events, I am not only referring to the classic Scrum events of Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective. Liberating Structures are also well-suited to support auxiliary activities such as the Product Backlog refinement, or meta retrospectives including stakeholders, or training classes/workshops in general.

Therefore, I do not focus the meetups on addressing the few obvious LS microstructures to facilitate merely the classic Scrum events. We also look beyond those and include other microstructures like Ecocyle Planning that will come handy, for example, when a Scrum Team decides to declutter its Product Backlog.

We start a meetup with practicing individual LS microstructures. Partly, those are new; others are repeated from earlier meetups as a refresher. Given that the participants lack a common background, typically, they come from at least two dozens of organizations, we exercise by addressing a shared pain. (Public transport has proven to be a useful subject in this respect.)

We then dedicate the second half of the meetup to a specific situation, by forming groups of eight to ten people, and start working on creating the targeted Liberating Structure string, here one that supports an overall Sprint Retrospective including stakeholders.

Liberating Structures for Sprint Retrospectives

The task for the 32 participants at this meetup was to create a suggestion for a Sprint Retrospective format — or better: a string of Liberating Structures microstructures — suited to address the specific business situation of MegaBrain.io, a (made-up) once hopeful and well-funded Berlin-based startup.

The MegaBrain.io Scenario

A year ago, MegaBrain.io was a well-funded, Berlin-based hopeful in the race to improve schooling by creating tailored curricula for each student derived from an AI.

Today, MegaBrain.io’s situation is dire:

  1. Only eight months of runway left.
  2. Prospective new VCs are not in sight.
  3. Existing VCs are not pleased with the growth metrics for the last six months and hence are reluctant to provide more capital to MegaBrain.io.
  4. Conflicts among the founders as well as between Product and Engineering become more frequent as well as more public.
  5. The last Sprint was a disaster; for the third time in a row, MegaBrain.io’s three Scrum Teams failed to deliver a much-anticipated product Increment. They are now almost two months late.

Your task is to suggest a retrospective format with an extended circle of attendees facilitating a look back at the last three months.

Liberating Structures for the MegaBrain.io Retrospective

After about 20 minutes, the four teams suggested the following LS microstructure strings to address MegaBrain.io’s challenge:

Liberating Structures for Scrum: The MegaBrain.io Retrospective

Of course, we used an LS microstructure to introduce the teams’ solutions to the whole group — Shift & Share works well for that purpose.

Liberating Structures for Scrum: The Sprint Retrospective — Age of Product


Liberating Structures strings work wonders if you need to address critical issues that require inclusion and giving everyone a voice in a safe environment. Maybe MegaBrain.io could manage to pivot utilizing the remaining runway as a result of applying one of the four suggested LS strings for an overall retrospective.

What experiences have you made using Liberating Structures to enhance Scrum events? Please share with us in the comments.

Agile Transition – A Hands-on Guide from the Trenches

The free Agile Transition – A Hands-on Guide from the Trenches e-book is a 254-page collection of articles I have been writing since October 2015. They detail the necessary steps to transition an existing product delivery organization of over 40 people strong to Agile practices.

scrum ,sprint retrospective ,liberating structures ,liberating structure ,retrospectives

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