The retrospective is also commonly referred to as lessons learned. Which in itself is an interesting turn of phrase, because my experience tells me lessons are not really learned until we have changed our thoughts or behaviour in some way and usually the experiences have to be repeated a number of times in different contexts before the lessons are finally learned … but I’ll not labour this point, except to make a suggestion at the end which I hope adds extra value to the process.
The Retrospective takes place after the sprint review (aka show and tell), so it is the final one of the sprint ceremonies to take place during a sprint. It should take only an hour to complete, although the team may decide that they would like longer because of some particular issues that may have arisen during the sprint.
As with all the other ceremonies all the team is present with the purpose of reviewing how the team performed during the last sprint. It is an important but necessary point to note that the Retrospective delivers greatest benefit when it is carried out at the end of the sprint. I know of some teams that decided to have their retrospective some time after the sprint was completed. At that point, even though it was only a few days into their new sprint, the teams had already forgotten about what was important for them in the previous sprint and they were edgy and wanted to get back to the important work of this sprint. Delaying having the Retrospective in my view is a big mistake and can be costly as a lot of important information will be forgotten.
Getting of to the right start
It should be noted that if the team or team members are new to this activity of retrospecting then there may be some defensive behaviours that may present themselves. It may be a good idea to have an independent and skilled facilitator come and run the session so that people understand the need for this process and work together for its successful conclusion. The Retrospective is about learning and very little learning is done in unsafe environment where the participants feel that they will be verbally attacked by their co-workers. So setting the right environment at the start is important. I am happy to provide some suggestions if you would like to know more about how to create the right environment. Just leave a response in the box below and I will answer it within 48 hours – how Agile is that?
How do we run a retrospective
There are many different style and flavours in which a retrospective can be run and it largely depends on what has happened in the previous sprint as to how the team leader will facilitate the session. My personal preference is to have plenty of wall space available with flip charts and post it notes that capture information along the following two themes:
- What went well in this sprint?
- What didn’t go so well in this sprint?
The team should be allowed some time to reflect on these two themes and write a post-it note for each event that was of importance for them and place this note on the wall. Depending on team size and how “positively” or “negatively” eventful the previous sprint was will determine the number of issues that the team may want to reflect on in more detail. If there are too many issues to discuss in the retrospective the team can vote on what is most important to them.
So depending on what the team chooses to talk about, they will invariably seek to answer these questions.
- What should we start doing in the next sprint?
- What should we stop doing in the next sprint?
- What should we change in the next sprint?
These are important questions that are aimed at behaviour change that will improve the functioning of the group. This little activity I have seen pay huge dividends in the smallest of teams as they seek to improve with every passing sprint.
Committing to change is permission to change
So answering those questions is important but the most important aspect of the retrospective is the agreement of the attendees to follow through on the actions afterwards. What I find is that if we find people are passionate about changing something, they will usually follow through on making this change happen. To that end my approach is to build passion, energy and enthusiasm around the change with the group while they are in the room. To wait until after they have left is too late, the moment will have passed. So I ask for a volunteer to champion that change for the duration of the next sprints. I have never yet had a situation where people haven’t volunteered. But finding the volunteer isn’t enough, what I then ask the volunteer to do is to ask the group for permission to champion the change. Now of course the rest of the team would like to know how are they going to go about championing the change and this is where the team can get creative. Things like: paying a fine if anyone is “caught” doing one of the STOP behaviours, putting a picture of a team player who is most actively carrying out the changes. Two great group motivators are being recognised by the group or being alienated by the group so these can be used to great effect, but hopefully in an ethical and compassionate way.
About the Author
Mark Buchan is an Agile consultant with experience of delivering organisational transformation for his clients. He has worked with organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Nokia, Bupa and BT.
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