Agile Retrospectives... the one thing you can't skip

July 28, 2015 04:02 PM | COMMENTS (0) | CATEGORIES: adam weisbart, agile 2015, diana larsen, esther derby, retrospective, retrospectives

Check the bottom of this page for links to the Agile 2015 Sessions by people mentioned in this article

Retrospectives are weird.

And sometimes…VERY uncomfortable.

And regardless of how far off the reservation you wander, with respect to other Agile practices, Retrospectives are THE ONE THING YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT SKIP

In traditional project management we have the Post-Mortem (or if you are the sensitive sort, the Project Review). These come at the end of the project… at least, they are supposed to. Unfortunately, unless the train has run completely off the tracks, and you don’t need to spend time hurling blame rocks at victims in the pit, skipping this is a pretty common thing. Because, hey - if nothing went really bad, things must be good – right? …Why mess with success lack of total failure.

AND, even if the project barely crawled across the finish line under its own power, the company has usually reassigned most of the people who worked on the project before the Project Review can be scheduled, anyway… and what’s the point of having it if we can’t have everyone present.

If you work on a team that is trying to adopt some form of Agile, almost nothing contributes directly to your ability to be successful more than regularly holding retrospectives. You want the team to get to a point where everyone feels responsible for contributing to discovering new ways to collectively improve how they work together so that they can deliver more value.

During the retrospective, the focus is on everyone sharing personal observations, discussing how things are going and to committing to a plan for things to change as they continue working together. To skip this, robs the team of their ability to inspect and adapt as a team and this is at the very core of what it means to be Agile.

Simply put, retrospectives are the mechanism we use to get better at working together. If you (and/or your team/organization) has made a decision to leave that out, no matter what you have decided to call your unique approach to work, it is not Agile.

Often in class, one of the participants will explain that they’ve stopped doing retrospectives for any number of reasons. My question is always, if you are skipping them, why? And how will you and your team find a different way to inspect and adapt as you grow and learn together?

Killing Crickets

If your retrospectives seem like a series of awkward moments filled with the sound of crickets, this is the first thing to inspect and adapt. For whatever reason, whether it be the way they are run or some dynamic about how they flow, if your retrospectives are not providing value, something needs to change. Keep in mind that a particular technique may work very well for a little while, but they do often reach a point of diminishing returns. Here are some ways to change it up…

Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen: You need this book if you are working with Agile. It provides a variety of approaches for running retrospectives. As you’ll see in the AgileLib Top 20 , it is a longstanding favorite among the thought leaders and practitioners in the Agile space.

Engage your Inner Weisbart: Adam Weisbart* is (insert analogy that does not refer to Adam as the Martha Stewart of Retrospectives, the Horse Whisperer of Retrospectives or the Mickey Goldmill* of retrospectives). The creator of Sh!t Bad Scrum Masters Say has a variety of tools available that can help you fix your retrospectives:

Agile Antipattern Cards - Each card lists a different anti-pattern that is intended to create important conversations within your team. All of the anti-patterns used have been collected as part of the Agile Antipattern Project.

Retrospective Cookies - If the issue is getting people to share, the statements and questions hidden inside these special Agile fortune cookies are a fun way to kick start the conversation and help the team figure out how to improve.

Agile Adlibs - The latest addition to Adam Weisbart’s suite of tools designed to help you with your retrospectives is based on Mad Libs. If you aren't from the US and didn't grow up with Mad Libs, the way they work is that someone has a questionnaire with a story that has lots of blanks that need to be filled in. Without giving you context, they ask you for a series of words like noun, verb, adjective, etc. These are then placed into spaces on a worksheet. Since you (the person providing the words) can't see the worksheet, the results are lots of fun. This provides a lighthearted way of helping the members of the team creatively discover things that might be ripe for tuning.

If you lead retrospectives, I think it is important to remember that you are part of the team and should contribute, but it is not your job to comment on everything everyone says. It is also important to remind everyone in the room that each of us whether on the team or outside is always doing the best job they can at any given moment.

Retrospectives are the most important part of your Agile workflow. They are the core tool for how we inspect and adapt as teams. If you want to get better at using Agile, make them part of your process and never skip them.


Esther Derby

Six Rules for Change - Monday, August 3rd at 3:45
Coaching Flow: Moving Past Resistance Wednesday, August 5 at 10:45

Diana Larsen

Are we Doomed to Sticky, Tricky and Icky?: Women and Men Working Togehter on Agile Teams - Tuesday, August 4 at 3:45

Adam Wesibart

Agile Jesters, Magicians and Clowns: Using the unexpected to move mountains and your team on Wednesday, August 5 at 2 PM.