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How to run a The Responsibility Process™ Retrospective

What is The Responsibility Process™?

Christopher Avery did a bunch of research and eventually came up with The Responsibility Process. Watch this YouTube video too.

In short, it explains how responsibility is not to be considered a trait, something you inherit, but rather something of a state machine, or something that evolves through phases. This process as laid out by Christopher, provides you with a framework that eventually allows you to become aware of which state/phase you’re in, and act upon it as to achieve the goal of Responsibility.

Getting there means you will be able to answer the inner question “What do I really want?”.

Through practice, I found this Process to be extremely powerful. An effect which its simplicity would make you think otherwise. If there’s one resolution you should fulfill in 2015 it’s this one, to use The Responsibility Process and become a better, happier person.

What does it have to do with Retrospectives?

The Responsibility Process is more applicable on a personal level. But make no mistake, it’s very powerful on a team level as well. Providing the answer to the team’s question of “What do WE really want?” is generally a difficult endeavor. However, with the knowledge of The Responsibility Process in the back of everyones mind, can make it realistically achievable.

How do we get this into the back of everyones mind? You build a Retrospective around it!

The goal

To do better in the next iteration, by creating awareness in your team about the Responsibility phases. And by getting everyone in the team to understand The Responsibility Process framework, thereby creating some sort of hivemind, allowing your team to align itself and make decisions easier.

What you’ll need

  • A meeting room
  • Post-its
  • Markers for everyone
  • Sticky (or non-sticky) Flip-charts, Paper-roll, … A clean surface area
  • Tape

Draw out the phases of The Responsibility Process on the clean surface area. Leave some room in between the lanes.

Setting the stage

Make sure you mention Norm Kerths Prime Directive, especially if this is your first retro, but also as a refresher.

Aside from that, pick one! The internet is a vast ocean of possibilities.

Gathering Data

  1. Briefly explain The Responsibility Process. Give short examples for all the phases.
  2. Have everybody write down on a post-it, in silence, at least one event or experience in the past iteration that they can remember, whether it be a good or bad one.
  3. Then have everybody try and hang each of their post-its on The Responsibility Process.

If you have a big team, or you’re doing a project retro, chances are you’ll get a WHOLE lot of post-its. If this is likely the case, you might want to limit the amount of post-its that people can write. You can just lay down a hard limit of 2-3 per person, or constrain them in another way (add to the comment section if you have a nice example).

Generate Insights

This is an important part of your retro. Because here we want the people in the team to become aware of what phase they were in when they experienced their chosen event.

Start with Denial or Blame, and read the post-its out loud. Move up the phases as you go along.

Try to put it every post-it you pick up in the phase where the team thinks it actually belongs. If it isn’t clear what the writer meant by it, have them explain it.

Group same post-its ONLY when they are both about the same subject AND in the same phase!


Here’s what we came up with:

Gathering Data

I’m pretty sure anyone can draw the phases out better than I did. :)

After you finished all the post-its, note how many are in which phase. This is the phase you are most likely to become aware of as a team and move towards Responsibility. The usual thing goes as well where you note clusters of subjects. It might be not as apparent because different post-its on same subjects might be spread out in different phases. This is ok. It’s more important to learn where in the states you are, then which subjects pop out. By saying them out loud, everybody will notice it anyways.

Sometimes people will yell I added that same subject in a different lane!. If you feel like the current phase hasn’t been explored enough yet, continue with other cards in that phase. If you feel like it has, ask them which phase they put it in so you can compare and ask why the same subject is in a different lane.

You’ll notice that it’s often a description of the cause, and not the problem itself that fits best in a phase. Help your group notice this too.

You’ll also notice that some people have difficulty placing a post-it in one lane and will sometimes hang it on the border. In the photo, see the two most left post-its that seem to drape over the border of Obligation and Shame. This is the typical programmers need to reduce duplication. Tell them that in this case, it’s alright :)

A participant mentioned that you could never hang anything in Denial, because it would mean you WOULD be aware of the problem. True, but the post-its that go in there would be experiences that you had and when looking back on them you were in Denial.

The post-its that were in Responsibility were always good ones, and these deserve our attention as well. When stuff is going good in an iteration, it’s definitely also worth mentioning!

Decide what to do

Explain that aside from the personal empowering the framework provides you, it also empowers a team with Shared Responsibility. Then ask the team the big question: “What do WE really want?”. You can then proceed to dot-vote, or merge, or make SMART goals.

Suggest that you can organize a contest where teammembers publicly keep their “Hits & Misses” of the phase that had the biggest amount of post-its.

Closing the retro

Explain the concept of Team Responsibility, which you sort of hinted at already in the previous section. This time make it really explicit that it’s you as a team that also can move through the different phases.

Again, pick one. If you’re like me, you’re going to want to choose one that gives you, the facilitator, feedback on how you ran your retro and how they felt during.

Closing thoughts

I didn’t put up Quit, because I didn’t want to confuse them too much. Quit can be tricky like that. But I did explain it to them afterwards.

Print out the posters and hang them across the team room for easy reference and reminders.

The reason why I think this retro format is great is because you gather data, and learn about The Responsibility Process at the same time. Further more, I find that creating awareness about these phases just improves a team in general, for a loooooooooooong time.

GL HF out there!

Oh, and I welcome questions, remarks, or any other kind of feedback in the comment section.

Hits and Misses game

On a whiteboard or whatever, list the teammembers, a hits column and a misses column. When a person noticed that they were in a certain phase when they said/did something, they can mark it as “hit”. If they notice it after they said/did something or someone else notices it afterwards, it counts as a “miss”.

This might work against you if some teammembers are likely to game the system. It’s fun to then ask them, while pointing at the posters you hung up, out of which phase in The Responsibility Process they’re acting the way they are. :)