Why Would You Do Retrospectives?27 Apr 2016

If one of the goals of Agile adoption is continuous improvement, doubtlessly there's a lot riding on the ways in which teams can improve what is being achieved by how they work, basing on past efforts. What's more sensible, than looking back at how we've worked in the past, when looking for ways to improve in the future?
Doing a process retrospective is therefore key to finding improvement opportunities.

Why Would You Do Retrospectives

When to Do Retrospective Meetings?

Retrospectives normally occur every iteration, so after each sprint, section or milestone. The idea is to look at the good and the bad to conclude what could be enhanced right away. Sort of a lessons learned meeting.

How to Do Retrospective Meetings?

Get ready - gather up team and data needed.
Get going - discuss roadblocks, achievements and interesting findings.
Get focused - prioritise what to work on.
You will not tackle all issues raised, so pick the most vital ones.
Get plotting - outline a way of having the problem removed or fixed for the next iteration.
Get positive - close on a high.
Focus on new improvement goals and appreciate the successes the team have had. Although the goal here is not to just feel good about the work, but about working well, ending on a postive can make a difference.

Now, if this meeting is going to take place every iteration, you will want to find good ways of keeping it short and focused. One good way of making quick decisions is using the PMI approach for identifying what we think of an issue. PMI stands for Plus, Minus and Interesting. So just 3 simple categories for speedy making up those analytic minds.

There is also a clever approach to defining solutions. Rather than treat each item with an individual (and time-consuming) problem solving approach, take on the "doing" ways. For any identified issue, you can either rule to stop doing, continue doing or start doing (something new).

How not to do retrospective meetings?

Don't let it turn into a blame game, which is all too easy to do. A high degree of trust and a friendly atmosphere are necessary in order to make this work well. It's also ill-advised to invite non-team members to the meeting. Definitely not a good way of making teams feel comfortable and open. This is not a show for bystanders, this meeting is meant to serve a specific purpose.

Why do retrospective meetings?

Retro meetings are a good way of keeping the team feel empowered and in ownership of the work, rather than like human tools. This has to be a good thing, right? They are also an exercise in self-management. It's much easier to accept the need to change if you yourself have been part of the team that made this requirement, than to have this demanded of you from above. Great way to keep teams happy.

What to keep in mind

The one key thing worth keeping in mind is to devise a way of ensuring the changes are indeed being introduced, not just talked about. A practical way of working the changes into the daily routine is putting them up on the task board as just another user story or work item. Building on the habit of team's looking at the board - they are bound to work the changes into what they do.

The added benefit

So, as advised, you get the team leader or any team member - even better when this is a different person each time - to translate improvement goals into workable task board items. This, in its own rights, forces that person to come up with specific ways of making these items non-abstract and actionable, henceforth making them used to finding solutions and more attuned to hands-on appreciation of progress and ways of improvement.

So, it would then seem, that team enhancement, process improvement and happier teams all can be a result of keeping sensible and focused retrospectives.

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