Liberating Structures are a collection of interaction patterns that allow you to unleash and involve everyone in a group — from extroverted to introverted and from leaders to followers. In many of our blog posts, we show how Liberating Structures can be used with Scrum.
The Liberating Structure “What, So What, Now What” breaks experiences down into three steps:
1️⃣ “What do we notice?”
2️⃣ “So, what does this mean?”
3️⃣ “Now, where do go from here?”.
It takes inspiration from the Ladder of Inference by Chris Argyris, an expert on learning in organizations, and it offers a perfect structure for Sprint Retrospectives.
By doing this with others, you are encouraged to discover the gaps in your understanding by learning from their perspectives. Being a fairly simple structure, you can easily adapt it to suit the needs of the situation. And the more you do it, the more natural this structured approach to sense-making becomes.
In this blog post, I’ll offer a short explanation of the various rounds. Check the article “Create Shared Understand With ‘What, So What, Now What’” by Christiaan Verwijs for more details.
Invite your team to individually consider what they noticed and/or what facts or observations stood out for them in the previous Sprint.
❌ “We didn’t finish 3 backlog items”
❌ “Item X got stuck for almost the entire Sprint because we needed to wait for another team”
❌ “We managed to release only twice, despite we agreed to do it every day”
✅ “Our most important stakeholders validated an important item during the Sprint”
✅ “Our Sprint Review was visited by all our stakeholders!”
Invite your team to individually reflect on the observations. Why are those observations important? What patterns do you see? What conclusions can we draw?
🤔 “We seem to have too many dependencies on other teams”
🤔 “Somehow, we aren’t able to release daily”
🤔 “Our collaboration with stakeholders is going smoothly”
Invite people to individually reflect on the previous round. What next steps make sense based on the conclusions? What should we invest in as a team based on what we know now?
📌 “Let’s map all our dependencies to find bottlenecks and identify at least one improvement to remove it”
📌 “ Let’s visit a team that has automated something we haven’t yet, and let’s take 1 idea from them that we will implement next Sprint as well.”
📌 “Let’s share our good experiences with our stakeholders, with team XYZ, because they seem to struggle with their stakeholders”
Collect the key ideas in a shared workspace, turn them into concrete improvements, and realize them in the next Sprint. Optionally, use “What, So What, Now What” again during the next Sprint Retrospective. A repetition is also a form of learning.
We used “What, So What, Now What” during one of our Zombie Scrum workshops.
- In total, this takes roughly 45–60 minutes. You can dig deeper with other Liberating Structures like “Discovery, and Action Dialogue”, “Wise Crowds”, or “UX Fishbowl”, but only W3 can already be sufficient.
- Some groups find it difficult to stick to the facts in the first round. They immediately jump to conclusions and interpretations. The risk of doing this too fast, and ignoring the raw facts and observations, is that you draw conclusions on false assumptions. Ask “How did you notice?” or “What did you actually hear, see, or notice?” to gently move people back to real facts.
Why don’t you give it a try during your next Sprint Retrospective? Let us know the results, and feel free to share what worked and didn’t work for you. Let’s learn and grow, together!