Improve and Do Retrospectives Right
“Improving daily work is even more important than doing daily work.” Gene Kim The Phoenix Project
Often as managers, we try to be a great example, lead by example and work as hard as we can and this is related to any leaders, team leads, managers, CEOs and etc. All of this is nice, but will never lead to great results, as a single person you cannot impact the results of the whole company, no matter how great, fast, experienced you are. There is always a team and more than one person behind success. I stumbled upon one concept which is called “multiplier” from the same name book “Multipliers”, that was eye opening for me. Instead of pushing yourself you must educate and mentor others, as you will work as the “multiplier” and bring much more value towards the company/business/team/department.
In a series of articles about IT management, I started with “A Bit About Scrum and Its History” and there was one important responsibility of a
Development Team - “Continuously improve their processes and practices to increase their efficiency and effectiveness.” as was mentioned in The Scrum Field Guide: Practical Advice for Your First Year book. This principles perfectly falls under what I wrote in paragraph above, where I explained why it’s important for any lead to improve their team in order to multiply the outcomes.
One of quite well known practices in IT development is
Retrospective. And this is what I would love to talk about and give some guidance to leaders in IT industry or maybe any other where you will find this applicable. Most of the things I found in regards retrospectives, how to handle them, how to prepare team in order have their commitment for getting better results, in this book “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” written by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen, which is in my opinion is the must if you work with any type of the team.
The authors describe different types of retrospectives, including ones focused on celebrating successes, exploring difficulties, and identifying areas for improvement. They also offer tips on how to prepare for retrospectives, such as creating a safe environment for open communication and using visualization techniques to encourage creativity. Additionally, the book addresses common pitfalls in retrospectives and offers strategies for addressing them. It also provides guidance on how to use the insights gained from retrospectives to drive continuous improvement and facilitate team learning.
Is there more than one retrospective?
Start, Stop, Continue: In this retrospective, the team reflects on what they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. They discuss what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what they want to do differently in the future. This retrospective type is useful for identifying specific actions the team can take to improve their performance.
Mad, Sad, Glad: This retrospective encourages team members to share what made them angry, sad, or happy during the iteration. It helps the team identify issues that need to be addressed and celebrate successes. The retrospective also provides an opportunity for team members to share their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
Sailboat: In the sailboat retrospective, the team uses a sailboat metaphor to explore what is driving them forward and what is holding them back. The wind represents factors that are pushing the team forward, while the anchor represents factors that are holding them back. The retrospective helps the team identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement.
5 Whys: The 5 Whys retrospective is a problem-solving technique that helps the team identify the root cause of a problem. The team starts by identifying a problem and then asks “why” questions up to five times to get to the root cause. This retrospective helps the team identify underlying issues that may not be immediately apparent.
Timeline: In the timeline retrospective, the team reflects on the events and activities of the iteration. They create a timeline of the iteration and discuss what worked well, what didn’t work well, and what they want to do differently in the future. This retrospective helps the team identify patterns and trends over time.
Strengths-Based: The strengths-based retrospective focuses on the team’s strengths and how they can use them to improve their performance. The team identifies their strengths and discusses how they can leverage them to overcome challenges and achieve their goals.
Constellation: The constellation retrospective helps the team identify how they perceive each other’s contributions and how they can work better together. The team members take on different roles and move around in the room to represent how they see themselves and their teammates. The retrospective helps the team develop a shared understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.
Yes, definitely there is more than one type of retrospective and it’s great to master few of them in order to mix them a bit and use in the right moment to get better results, otherwise if you do every two weeks start/stop/continue your brain and teams’ brains gonna fry.
Once again, if you work with people this is must to know and understand.
Create a safe environment: To create a safe environment, the facilitator should establish ground rules that promote respectful and constructive dialogue. These rules might include things like:
- No interrupting or talking over others
- Everyone gets a chance to speak
- All ideas and feedback are welcome
- Focus on the problem, not the person
Example: At the beginning of the retrospective, the facilitator might ask the team to agree on a set of ground rules. The facilitator might also remind the team that the retrospective is a safe space where they can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or reprisal.
Use visualization techniques: Visualization techniques can help spark creativity and encourage participation. Examples of visualization techniques include:
- Using sticky notes to write down ideas or feedback
- Drawing diagrams or mind maps
- Using a whiteboard to organize ideas
Example: The team might use sticky notes to brainstorm ideas for things they want to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. They might then use a whiteboard to organize those ideas into categories.
Set the stage: Setting the stage for the retrospective involves providing context and framing the discussion. This might include things like:
- Reminding the team of the retrospective’s purpose and goals
- Providing a brief overview of the iteration or project
- Explaining how the retrospective will be conducted
Example: The facilitator might remind the team that the purpose of the retrospective is to identify what worked well and what didn’t work well in the previous iteration. They might provide a brief overview of the features or tasks that were completed during the iteration and explain that the retrospective will be conducted using a Start, Stop, Continue format.
Select the appropriate retrospective type: As mentioned earlier, there are different retrospective types to choose from, and the facilitator should select the type that best suits the team’s needs and goals.
Example: If the team is struggling to identify the root cause of a problem, the facilitator might choose the 5 Whys retrospective. If the team wants to focus on celebrating successes, the Mad, Sad, Glad retrospective might be more appropriate.
Invite the right people: It’s important to invite all team members who are involved in the iteration or project to the retrospective. This includes developers, testers, product owners, and other stakeholders who have a vested interest in the team’s success.
Example: The team might consist of developers, testers, and a product owner. In this case, all three roles should be invited to the retrospective so that everyone’s perspectives and feedback can be heard.
Make it a regular practice: Retrospectives should be held regularly, ideally at the end of each iteration or project. Regular retrospectives help teams identify and address issues early on, and they encourage continuous learning and improvement.
Example: If the team is working on a two-week iteration cycle, the retrospective should be held at the end of each iteration. This ensures that the team is reflecting on their performance and making improvements on a regular basis.
Obviously you might hit some resistance, not everyone is treating retrospectives, changes or improvements positively or seriously.
Lack of focus: If the retrospective is not focused on a specific topic or objective, it can become unfocused and unproductive. The team might discuss a variety of topics without reaching any concrete conclusions or making any meaningful improvements.
Blaming and finger-pointing: If team members start blaming each other for problems or mistakes, it can create a defensive and unproductive atmosphere. This can prevent the team from focusing on finding solutions and making improvements.
Lack of follow-through: Even if the team identifies issues and comes up with action items, there is a risk that they will not follow through on those items. This can lead to a feeling of disillusionment and lack of motivation in subsequent retrospectives.
Dominance by a few team members: If a few team members dominate the conversation, it can prevent others from sharing their ideas and opinions. This can lead to a lack of diversity in ideas and solutions.
Ineffective facilitation: If the retrospective facilitator does not manage the discussion effectively, it can result in a lack of focus and unproductive conversation. The facilitator should ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and that the conversation stays focused on the objective.
Lack of preparation: If the retrospective is not well-prepared or planned, it can lead to a lack of direction and purpose. The facilitator should have a clear agenda and objective for the retrospective.
Here is list of strategies with examples from the book which might help you resolving some resistance you might experience.
Lack of focus:
- Define a clear objective or topic for the retrospective, such as improving team communication or addressing a specific issue that has been identified.
- Use visualization techniques such as mind maps, Kanban boards or affinity diagrams to help the team organize their thoughts and stay focused on the objective.
- Set a time limit for the retrospective to keep the team on track and ensure that they use their time effectively.
Example: If the objective of the retrospective is to improve team communication, the facilitator can create a Kanban board with different columns for different communication issues (e.g. unclear emails, unproductive meetings, etc.). Team members can write their ideas and suggestions on sticky notes and place them in the appropriate column. This helps the team stay focused on communication issues and organize their thoughts into actionable items.
Blaming and finger-pointing:
- Establish ground rules for respectful and constructive dialogue. For example, the team can agree to avoid personal attacks or blaming language.
- Encourage the team to focus on finding solutions rather than assigning blame. Use visualization techniques to help the team see the bigger picture and understand the root cause of problems.
- Consider using a facilitator who is not a member of the team to help keep the discussion constructive and neutral.
Example: If the team is discussing a project that did not meet its deadline, the facilitator can use a fishbone diagram to help the team identify the root causes of the issue. This can help the team focus on finding solutions instead of blaming individuals or departments.
Lack of follow-through:
- Assign specific action items with clear owners and deadlines. Write them down and display them in a visible location for the team to see.
- Follow up on action items in subsequent retrospectives to ensure progress is being made.
- Celebrate successes and improvements made as a result of action items from previous retrospectives to help motivate the team to continue making progress.
Example: If the team identified a need for more effective sprint planning in a previous retrospective, the action item could be to schedule a planning session with specific agenda items and a clear time limit. The owner of the action item can report back in the next retrospective on the outcomes of the planning session and any improvements made.
Dominance by a few team members:
- Use facilitation techniques such as round-robin or fist of five to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and share their ideas.
- Encourage quieter team members to participate by asking for their input directly or using techniques such as brainstorming to generate a variety of ideas from everyone.
- Consider having the retrospective facilitated by someone outside of the team to help ensure that everyone has a chance to speak and share their ideas.
Example: The facilitator can use a round-robin technique where each team member has a set amount of time to speak without interruption. This ensures that everyone has a chance to share their perspective and ideas without being dominated by others.
- Ensure that the facilitator is well-prepared and has a clear agenda and objective for the retrospective.
- Use facilitation techniques such as asking open-ended questions, active listening and paraphrasing to keep the conversation focused and productive.
- Encourage participation and feedback from the team throughout the retrospective to ensure that everyone is engaged and the discussion stays on track.
Example: The facilitator can prepare a clear agenda for the retrospective, with specific topics and activities planned for each segment. They can use open-ended questions to encourage discussion and active listening to ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard and understood.
Lack of preparation:
- Ensure that the retrospective is well-planned and that the facilitator has a clear agenda and objective.
- Provide any necessary materials or resources ahead of time to ensure that the retrospective runs smoothly.
- Encourage team members to come prepared with their ideas and suggestions for improvement to maximize the effectiveness of the retrospective.
Example: The team can be given a clear objective in advance, such as improving the efficiency of their development process. The facilitator can then create an agenda that includes activities such as a timeline review and a brainstorming session. The team can be provided with materials such as post-it notes and markers to encourage active participation and idea generation during the retrospective.
I hope that it was useful and you were able to find something new for yourself. If you are facing certain management, delivery or IT department/team challenges - do not hesitate to contact me I always happy to help, check out my consultancy page.
Photo by Rov Camato