I wrote a few weeks back that while retrospectives are commonly associated with agile projects they can also be equally useful on traditional ones.
So what are some of the elements required to run a successful retrospective?
One of my key learnings from the Agile2016 conference was that psychological safety is the number one requirement for a high performance team and its criticality is evident in ceremonies like standups and retrospectives.
Imagine the impact of the team aggressively criticizing one of their own for something which might have been done better during the previous iteration. Not only will it reduce the productivity of the persecuted team member, but the ripple effects of that behavior are likely to affect the team as a whole.
While the team is expected to be self-organized and self-disciplined, in early iterations it will take heightened vigilance and active listening for the Scrum Master or team leader to gently coach those team members who are new to agile into how to appropriately contribute to retrospectives.
It is too easy for subjectivity and personal biases to emerge within retrospectives. By starting the retrospective by reviewing quantitative outcomes from the iteration (e.g. net velocity, new story points, ratio of stories accepted by the sponsor and other key stakeholders to completed stories), it can help team members focus and align feedback. This shouldn’t mean that team dynamics shouldn’t be raised and discussed, but a good team leader will facilitate the discussion in the right direction by encouraging team members to provide specific examples when general statements get made.
In my recent article I had written about the benefits of classifying the outputs of retrospectives or lessons learned sessions as reminders, blockers or true knowledge.
Blockers identified during retrospectives likely require escalation outside of the team otherwise they should have been raised during standups and resolved. True knowledge might require changes to the team’s working practices hence they should be sized and fight for their survival alongside requirements, defects and other work items in the backlog.
But reminders need to be reinforced and a good way to do this is to publish a top ten list of reminders using one or more information radiators. Think of this as the project equivalent of those “Only you can prevent forest fires” Smokey Bear advertising campaigns. And if they relate to a physical activity or location, place the reminder nearby to enhance awareness.
Retrospect on your retrospectives
After a few iterations the team should not only share what worked well and what could be improved based on the past iteration, but they should also analyze the most recent retrospective. If none of the outcomes resulted in added value, the retrospective might be perceived as wasted time.
Running regular retrospectives is not an indicator of agility but how they get conducted and the benefits realized through them is.