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Posted By - Geoff Watts
Like Peter Zylka-Greger wrote, retrospectives have huge potential but are often misunderstood.
Many years ago, when I experienced my first sprint retrospective it was mind-blowing for me. It was so different to the old project post-mortems and autopsies I had seen before. My team and I were taught a structure that was revolutionary to us. We were invited to find examples of 4 types of insight from the last month’s worth of work. See below
Suddenly things shifted from “who is the weakest link?” or “who is going to take the blame/ credit?” to something more constructive.
Word spread…other teams started noticing that we weren’t dreading our meetings. We seemed to be improving. Others started using this ground-breaking structure and, of course, it worked for us so why would we stop using it?
Fast forward about 12 months and a terrible decision was made, albeit a decision that had good intentions. It was decided that all teams should have sprint retrospectives and that this was the structure they should use. Laminated, company-branded templates were created and shipped out to project managers (who were expected to be Scrum Masters) all over the organisation and they were expected to be used. Indeed it became part of the objectives of the individuals, teams and projects.
It had the same effect as trying to force people to have fun!
Regardless of the mandatory nature of it (people will resist almost anything if they feel they are being forced to do it) simply the repetitive nature of it was bad enough.
There was so little thought to a sprint retrospective now that people didn’t even bother writing the words on the flip chart/whiteboard…they just drew some symbols…
We found that engagement dropped, attendance dropped, improvement stalled, and finally teams stopped getting value from these meetings.
Something was wrong and it upset me because I had seen how valuable these sessions could be. It took some experiments to find out what is probably obvious to you. Namely that if you ask the same questions you typically get the same answers. That, and people get bored easily.
So we tried a few different structures, we asked different questions, we had retrospectives that focussed on specific topics, we changed the venue, we played some games, we spent some sessions doing things instead of talking about them (hackathons, prototyping, backlog refinement) and suddenly things were getting better again.
If you have found yourself getting into a bit of a funk with Sprint Retrospective Meetings then check I’ve got some top tips.
Retrospectives are my favourite part of the agile approach because they embody the ‘inspect and adapt’ process. Start where you are, work out what to solidify and how to get better. I have yet to find a team that is so bad that they have nothing good to keep and build on. Equally I have yet to find a team that has no opportunity to improve. Therefore I have yet to find a team that cannot benefit from retrospectives.
If you think your sprint retrospectives have lost their shine, why not run a retrospective on your retrospectives? Look back at the good ones, and the less inspiring ones, what might you not have tried yet? Perhaps you need a little inspiration to break the monotony, that’s all.
Over the years, I’ve facilitated and observed many sprint retrospectives and would struggle to guess just how many. The good ones have been filled with energy, honesty, conflict, creativity and humour. The bad ones have been repetitive, shallow, uninspiring and predictable.
Retrospectives are one of the easiest parts of Scrum to pick up and run with. And if they are executed well, they can have an immediate effect on team productivity and morale.
To this end, I thought I would share our top ten tips for running a great sprint retrospective.