Retrospectives: Look to the future

20 June 2017
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Reading time: 2 minutes

Did you notice more or less subtle accusations in your retrospectives even if the rules hanging on the wall clearly prohibit this? Maybe Aristotle (Greek philosopher, 384 to 322 BC) can help out.

In Chapter 3 of his first book of metaphysics, Aristotle introduces three genres of rhetoric:

  1. Γένος δικανικόν (judicial/forensic rhetoric):
    In the courtroom, questions are asked about past acts. It is about guilt, forensics and autopsy. You dig deeper and deeper. Figuratively speaking: One cuts the dead body apart to find out more. You can imagine the smell.
  2. Γένος συμβουλευτικόν (Deliberative rhetoric, legislative oratory):
    In this case you try to convince your audience. If your retrospectives have questions in the present, this leads to discussions about values in order to take actions in the future.
    If decisions are to be made the question should point to the future.
  3. Γένος ἐπιδεικτικόν (epideictic/ceremonial oratory)
    Here, one addresses to all people and refers to the acts in the present, whereby also acts from the past can be mentioned.

Summarized for the retrospective:
Questions in the past lead to forensics and guilt, questions in the present lead to values ​​and questions in the future lead to decision-making.

What is the learning? Do not ask any questions to the past like «What was wrong?» or «What were our main problems?». These lead sooner or later to the question of guilt. Ask questions about the future, such as: «What could be improved?».

Alistair Cockburn calls the retrospective «reflection workshop». I like this term. Therefore, I hope you will have successful reflection workshops focusing on future questions.

Comments (1)

Arnaud LHOTE

Arnaud LHOTE

20 June 2017 at 15:22

Great post Niko. It is very much inline with my solution focussed thinking of retrospectives or reflection workshop. You focus on the future perfect and what the first signs of success will be as “the solution does care about which problem it originated from” (Steve Deshazer)


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