15 % Solutions or Little Things Can Make Big Difference

Tales from the Retrospective

In our last Retrospective we experimented with a different approach than usual.

We did it on the model of 15% Solutions.

The term was first coined by Gareth Morgan in his book Imaginization.

It says essentially that we can find 15% of actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference.

Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide…


… and change the whole landscape!

We started with a warm-up, where we asked two questions:

  1. What is your boldest, yet actionable idea of improvement?
  2. What is your challenge? What kind of help do you need?

The questions are meant to provoke innovative thinking and keep the connection to the ground (yet actionable). We had conversations in pairs, switching pairs every 5 minutes.

The idea was to explore the possibilities (personal ideas) and prepare for the second part where we think of Solutions.

As observation, all people involved really thought of bold, transformative ideas, and some evolved their ideas based on the feedback received during conversations.

Next Step: 15% Solutions

Second part of the Retro was dedicated to exploring the concept of 15% Solutions.

Questions that were asked:

Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority?

What is your 15%?

It started as a personal introspection. Then we had discussions in groups of two, four and finally with the whole group (1-2-4-all model).

We ended up with a set of rather personal objectives, small and doable.

The final discussion was intense, people sharing their 15%, some being skeptical, most being confident.

We decided to keep our post-its personally and I have put mine above my desk:


15% Solutions is part of Liberating Structures, a collection of “microstructures” that make possible out of routine, meaningful interactions within bigger groups.

They have been introduced by Henri Lipmanowicz in his book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation

Liberating Structures are built on the idea that everyone is included and everyone has equal opportunity to contribute.

It is up to the facilitator to combine microstructures to fit the objective of the meeting, therefore to create unique experiences every time.

Some of the “whys” behind choosing 15% solutions approach were:

  • Move away from blockage, negativism, and powerlessness
  • Have people discover their individual and collective power
  • Reveal bottom-up solutions
  • Share actionable ideas and help one another
  • Build trust


I highly recommend this book it if you are interested in this kind of facilitation techniques.

[Later Edit]: I came across Seth Godin’s post about “Streaks”:

Streaks are their own reward.

Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.

Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.

Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.

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