Retrospective: Continuously tune for better

An agile retrospective, or sprint retrospective, is a practice to reflect on the team’s way of working in an effort to continuously become better in what we do by adjusting the team’s behavior accordingly.

The following agile principles outlined in the Manifesto complement the retrospective:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

The culture where team members can give and take constructive feedback is crucial to improvement. The rules are clearly defined and require that everyone involved to be ready and willing to hear the truth without taking anything personally. The retrospective facilitator usually is the Scrum master[1][2]

Ground Rules[1][2]

Scheduled. Time-boxed, Scheduled within but at end of sprint

Time-box the agenda to keep the meeting focused and moving forward. For example, a 30-minute retrospective would be scheduled as:

  • 5 minutes: Establish the rules for engagement and review the agenda.
  • 10 minutes: Discuss what went well on the project (“I like”).
  • 10 minutes: Discuss what needs improvement or could have gone better (“I wish”).
  • 5 minutes: Highlight and group concepts that need improvement (“We Will”). This helps provide a framework for future iterations

Focus on the process, not the people

It’s crucial to have an open culture in agile retrospectives where team members speak up. Retrospectives need to be a safe space for team members to provide honest feedback about the project.

Full team participation

Encourage everyone to contribute. The whole team should attend the retrospective meeting, where they “inspect” how the iteration (sprint) has been done, and decide what and how they want to “adapt” their processes to improve.

Every team member should be able to share feedback. Ensure everyone’s voice is heard, even those that are less comfortable speaking up in a group setting. This can be done by asking everyone to write it on sticky notes. If this is a virtual meeting, then collect the inputs in advance by all, through a neutral team member/facilitator.

Categorize the feedback into themes

Have the inputs, categorized before the start of the meeting, into themes. Keep the names against the input anonymous unless he/ she likes to disclose himself during the meeting.

Action Plan

The actions coming out of a retrospective are communicated and implemented in the next iteration. That makes retrospectives an effective way of short cycled improvements.

Capture the outcome and track the actions

This can be done using sticky notes or Microsoft artifacts to capture decisions and actions. or it can be done in any tool that helps in tracking the actions. In case if you are using a tool like a confluence, it has a Retrospective blueprint to create a new Confluence page and can be used to record the outputs of the retrospective session.

Retrospective Techniques

Some of the techniques to do retrospectives are :

  • Start, stop, and continue.
  • Sailboat: the technique will identify what is the wind in the sail and the anchor holding the team back from progress.
  • Starfish: here, the team will reflect on their practices/activities and the level of impact they have on their results in order to know what to start doing, stop doing, keep doing, do less, and do more.
  • PIPA: The next technique is puzzles, ideas, problems, and appreciation
  • ORID (objective, reflective, interpretive, and decision): objective focuses on reactions, emotions, feelings. Interpretive focuses on meaning, conclusions, and impacts. The decision focuses on what should be done.
  • 4L’s (liked, learned, lacked, and longed for). The 4Ls retrospective will serve as feedback for the process.
  • Plus/Delta: This technique will address what went well and what should we change?
  • Mad, sad, and glad
  • Force field analysis (driving/restraining). This technique will help the team in identifying what is driving the team forward and what is holding the team back?
  • Imagine the future: this will allow the team to think about the possible status of the future, the good and bad. What will take the team to the states?
  • State the feeling with 1 word

The thing that is valuable is that retrospectives are a way for the team to look with a different perspective on the work they delivered to customers. This allows the team to distance themselves from the stress of the milestone and understand if the project was really useful or not. This allows us to avoid making the same mistakes on future iterations.

Retrospectives are not limited to agile. It can be done at iteration, program, portfolio, or end of deploy or any other level/situation. You’ll find it interesting to learn from the mistakes team members were doing, and how a retrospective set them back on track or in tuning the performance of the team for better.

Books for further reading on effective retrospectives:

  1. Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great
  2. Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives – A Toolbox of Retrospective Exercises

Thank You very much

References: [1], [2] [3]

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