The Bubble Up practice is a method for capturing key feedback messages at retrospectives throughout the organization and guaranteeing their esclation to, as well as a response from, Business Leadership.
The Bubble Up practice is used at all levels of an organization, at team level retrospectives or iteration assessments, at Product Forums, at programme level during stage reviews and at portfolio level during Continuous Investment Review. During these reviews some feedback points are considered by the team involved to be so significant that they should be escalated to the next wider group such as a Product Forum, programme, or to Business Leaders.
Teams can tag some of their feedback points as “Bubbled Up” which automatically escalates them to the next relevant group or management structure. Collectively the organization and its leaders promise that they will respond to Bubbled issues.
One of the most common complaints from teams we talk to is that their retros find the same problems time and again. In some organizations they have no way to escalate. In others, they can escalate but there’s never any response. Bubble Up fixes these problems. Both important positive, negative and change elements can be Bubbled Up by teams, and it’s always their choice. No one outside of a team should bubble up something for them, but once a team does choose to escalate no one should try and block a bubbled issue.
Response is guaranteed for anything Bubbled up. The response may not be exactly what teams want as sometimes challenged constraints are simply explained as necessary rather than removed but the process of explaining why helps achieve a common understanding.
Improvement coaches (both internal and external) that facilitate retrospectives and reviews can identify systemic issues or positive behaviors that require escalation, in this case they can create their own points to Bubble Up that represent the community but aren’t based in any particular delivery team. This process also allows for a safety valve for teams to indirectly bubble up politically unpalatable issues. Business Leaders must promise to respond to points Bubbled up to them, and managers must not inhibit the free flow of points and their responses. To this end a physical location can be used to Bubble Up points using post-its, or an online collaboration tool can similarly be used.
The Bubble Up practice allows for an escalation outside of the normal project -> programme reporting pattern and so is especially useful for stand-alone projects or alternative (non-project) delivery methods. The number of top-level negative and positive Bubble Up points, and their trends, are a good candidate for inclusion on the Executive Dashboard as excessive reporting outside of the normal project/programme governance procedures indicates dysfunction in the normal reporting line.
Holistic Software Development incorporates a number of feedback loops, at each of which the Bubble Up practice can be used, team retrospectives being the most effective example of this. The Bubble Up practice is most effective when combined with the Go See practice as a leadership response.
The term “Bubble Up” was first coined by Em Campbell-Pretty on her 2013 blog: The "Bubble Up" Approach to Scaling Retrospectives
Retrospectives are periodic team based reviews focusing on what went well and what went wrong so that lessons can be learned and processes improved.