Retrospective Values

Of the four official Scrum meetings, one is more often a target for cancelation than the others. Can you figure out which one it might be? If you guessed the Retrospective meeting you are right. Sadly, if teams really understood that this is the meeting that can take their team from “good to great”, they’d think twice before sending out the meeting cancellation notice.

Why is it the most cancelled?  My theory is there are four main reasons:

  1. It falls at the end of the Sprint, a time when people are busy trying to get things done and/or ready to just go home at the end of a busy cycle.  End of Sprint time IS busy. Teams are wrapping up work. Bugs are being fixed and tested. Documentation is getting done. Review prep and delivery is happening. No wonder people feel the urge to skip.
  2. Another common reason for skipping is there is no follow through. Teams have not seen any change result from their discussions so they quit having them. After all, how many times has your HR department put out a company survey and then never shared the results or worse yet, never acted on them. People don’t want to spend time providing information that won’t result in something.
  3. It is perceived as a “soft” meeting where there are no concrete product deliverables. It involves inspecting and adapting the team’s behaviors and practices and this makes people uncomfortable. They’d rather discuss product deliverables something which is less “touchy feely”.
  4. And finally, “We’re good (enough), there is nothing to change.” I hear this one a lot. Teams think they’re good enough so they believe they can forgo the Retrospective. Many times, however, I hear these same teams say something basic like “We don’t always finish our Sprint goal”. Teams like this most certainly do have areas for improvement and they are probably really skipping the Retrospectives because of one of the first three reasons mentioned above.

So, what can they do? Start holding Retrospectives and change things up. Here are four easy tips.

Change the format. Retrospectives shouldn’t be boring. Try going to the coffee shop or the local pub to have informal conversation outside of the walls of work. Sometimes simply changing the environment will cause new behaviors and people to warm up and share new topics. Try reading parts of Esther Derby & Diana Larsen’s book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great for new facilitation ideas in order to find ways to encourage people to open up.

Have a trusted guest facilitator in order to bring some new energy in the room. It was when I was a guest facilitator that I witnessed a team member accusing all of his teammates of not caring. I had been prepped privately that this had been going on for months and in my presence someone finally spoke up. A team member uttered quietly towards the floor “that’s not true”. Then he looked up to me with eyes that read, “OK, I did it. I spoke up – now what?” This allowed me to dig into the heart of the issue with them ultimately allowing them to understand each other’s perspectives.

Get to the heart of the issues. Team members must avoid just scratching the surface, which doesn’t allow for getting to the core of the issues. Only discussing the easy problems related to process and rules won’t really help the team get from good to great. ScrumMasters must create a meeting environment where people are comfortable opening up. They should identify if fear or a lack of trust are problems and work to overcome those barriers. Then ScrumMasters must find ways to draw people in. Ask why. Encourage trust. Discuss the need to be open. Acknowledge people’s fears.  ScrumMasters must ensure that respect and openness are what is valued in the retrospectives and put a stop to any behaviors that go against those beliefs.

Finally, follow through. If ScrumMasters expect people to give their time and open up, we better demonstrate action. Walk away with a small number of action items after the team has prioritized which items should be corrected first. Summarize the list at the close of the Retrospective including who is working on what. Then, ScrumMasters should bring those items up a few times at the end of the next Sprint’s Daily meetings. The ScrumMaster should ask questions about progress being made on the Retrospective items and also report on the items that were assigned to him/her at the end of the Daily meeting.

These are a few tips that can be applied quickly to ensure teams are getting the most of their Retrospectives. Changing the format, inviting a guest facilitator, getting to the heart of the issues and ensuring follow through are just a few examples of what to do to spice up your Retrospective. There are many other techniques to try. Good luck!