agile.retrospective.2017.jpgA Paragon Solutions Expert Insight on Agile Teams and the Often Lost Opportunity: Retrospectives. 

The end of the year is my time to reflect. I reflect on all aspects of my life and review where I am both personally and professionally.  This personal retrospective gives me an opportunity to review my progress and make changes based on more updated goals. 

Agile teams have this same opportunity to make their teams more collaborative and more efficient by taking part in retrospectives. 

The one thing I find most worrisome is that they are often a lost opportunity.

While self-reflection, whether it is personal or in a team setting, is not always the most comfortable experience, if you are truly honest with yourself (and your team) you have the unique opportunity to make things better

In life as in a project, you don't always have that opportunity. To actually see an issue resolved or mediated in a quick fashion is not something we all get a chance to experience and it is gratifying like few other experiences.

I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Larsen several years ago. I was so impressed with her insights and our discussion that I bought and read the book, Agile Retrospectives, Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen. In 2003, they were bestowed with the title "Retrospective Goddesses" at an annual Retrospective Facilitator Gathering.  You can watch one of their presentations and you can read some excerpts from or order their book

Retrospectives Build Agile Teams

We've all heard the standard retrospective questions; What went well during the sprint?, What went wrong during the sprint?, and What could we do to improve? 

Still...there's so much more to a retrospective.

Esther and Diana have been conducting, researching and coaching retrospective meetings for over 20 years combined.They've researched various meeting formats and have found the following five stage format to be most effective.

Set the Stage

While preparing for this stage you will need to do everything necessary to get the meeting off to a quick start and to maintain focus and productivity during meeting.  There are activities that are required before and during the meeting. Before the meeting it is very important that the facilitator prepares for the meeting. The meeting room should be conducive to a discussion with chairs in a semi-circle and tables to the sides for small group break out discussions. 

See Also: 4 Traits of a Winning Agile Coach

It is important to create an agenda and the facilitator will create their own version of the agenda with notes to ensure the team stays on topic. The facilitator will also post the working agreements in the room as a reminder for the team. If there are no working agreements, create them first. To start you may only want four or five and then adjust them later. The facilitator could be the scrum master but the team may choose to alternate facilitators and select another team member for the next retrospective. During the meeting the facilitator will make sure everyone introduces themselves within the first 5 minutes and that each team member 'checks in'.  A check in is a one to two-word expression of the team members feelings about past sprint.  For example, I'm concerned, pleased, confused, etc. We can build on these check-ins in the next stage.

Business.Process.Redesign.Warning.jpgGather Data

When we gather data for the iteration we are consolidating facts about what happened during iteration and how we responded to those stimuli. Gathering data may seem unusual for such a short amount of time but if team member missed one day of a two week sprint, they've missed 10% of the events and the collaboration. Plus, everyone doesn't always experience all of the events so gathering the data creates a shared perspective that is closer to reality.

There are two types of data to collect. Hard data could include events such as changes in team dynamics, special meetings, leadership decisions that will impact the work, etc. Metrics could include data such as historical velocity, burndown charts, defect logs and testing progress. Soft data includes feelings and impressions of various events and of the sprint as a whole. Capturing the events in a timeline is often a useful tool to put the sprint in perspective.  Then recording the feelings and impressions at the appropriate places on the timeline may help identify associated patterns and trends

agile.creating.productive.agile.teams.jpgGenerate Insights

Once we have identified patterns and trends in our data, we evaluate so that we can make meaning out of our actions. Why did we do what we did? Your team may have had to make decisions about solutions on the spot during the iteration.  You might have made a correct decision, but often a decision made hastily will not garner the results you anticipated. So you need to evaluate those decisions to understand what to do the next time you encounter the same or a similar scenario.

Decide What to Do

Once we have gathered our data and generated insights based on that data, we need to decide what exactly we're going to do with this information. You are now prepared to talk about any actions that the team needs to do. You can create list of potential improvements based on your information and if the list is long you'll need to shorten the list. 

One method to do that is the Dot Vote. Give each team member two dot stickers. Once you've created the list on the board or flip chart, ask each member to put their dots on their two highest concerns. You should limit your choices to the one or two highest concerns. Then discuss the one or two issues and determine how to test them so that you can verify that you have accomplished the improvement. Make sure someone on the team volunteers to monitor the activity and ensure the decision is followed.

See Now: The Agile Sprint: Backlog Grooming Takes 3 Key Steps

Close the Retrospective

Closing the retrospective should not be a lengthy process; no more than 10 minutes.  You should recap the activities of the retrospective and recap all the decisions made during the retrospective. User stories to accommodate the new decisions and actions can be created and assigned team members for monitoring so that they can be incorporated into the next sprint. 

Before the end you should do a retrospective on the retrospective discussing how to improve it next time. 

Make sure you thank everyone for their participation and designate the next facilitator if you alternate facilitators. The twelfth underlying principle of the Agile Manifesto is: At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. This is Inspect and Adapt. The retrospective meeting, probably more than any other, aids the principle of Inspect and Adapt and is therefore a very important meeting. 

CommentBox_2.jpgDon't miss your opportunity to improve your team's effectiveness and efficiency. Need tips to get started?
Let us know in our Leave a Comment section below!