Retrospectives seems to be the most awkward Agile ceremonies. This is especially true if you haven’t achieved the self-governing quality that all Agile teams strive to reach. It is also a challenge in toxic working environments where honesty and trust eludes the team. The ironic thing is, Retrospectives provide the ideal setting to resolve a lot of issues the team faces, and failing to achieve this during the Retro will only make it worse. We’re not going to talk about how to run a Retrospective, but rather, we’ll discuss some tips to spice-up your Retrospective.
The one thing most Agile teams overlook in Retrospectives is the venue. We default to the usual conference room where we always stage our Planning and Scrum ceremonies. Consider changing-up the venue. Take the team away from the usual workspace or, if possible, outside the office building where everybody works. Choose a comfortable and spacious location where everybody has a chance to breathe and move around. A private place with plenty of windows that lets in natural light can help people relax and relieve the day’s stress. Remember, the goal is to provide a safe place where everybody can express their ideas.
Communication seems to be the primary challenge in distributed Agile Teams and that is true with the Retrospective as well. Take the bull by the horns and address it right away. One challenge is that the lack of face-to-face conversation completely removes the non-verbal cues, so consider doing a video conference. Posting pictures of the remote team members in the venue can also help place a face to the voice. Pay special attention to keeping the remote team members engaged in the discussion. If the challenges are too big to overcome, consider running separate Retrospectives between onsite and remote team members, but make sure to record the meeting and allow the latter team to watch or listen to the recording of the previous team.
I often see and even fall victim myself of assigning the Scrum Master as the Retrospective Facilitator. It is the “easy” thing to do, but the Scrum Master may not be the best facilitator. Scrum Masters are accustomed to removing impediments and fixing problems, not finding and identifying problems or issues. The same goes with any member of the Agile Team. So, what am I getting at? Try getting an independent facilitator. If possible, somebody who has experience running a Retrospective but is completely removed from the team’s day-to-day operation. The idea is to get somebody with no bias who can provide objectivity to the ceremony. Somebody who is incapable of taking sides or providing subjective commentary is ideal.
Safety, Discussion and Interactivity
The Retrospective is the time for reflection and self-evaluation. The team MUST feel safe to express their opinion. Discourage naming and blaming. One technique is to always start with what went well. It allows a positive start to the Retrospective and makes everybody feel at ease right away. Allow each member equal time to speak—especially quiet team members. Encourage group discussion and discourage situations where one team member takes over the discussion. The Starfish Diagram and Question Circle are good methods to encourage interactivity and group discussion.
Keep your Eyes on the Prize
Finally, make sure you remember the purpose of the Retrospective. Figure out what went well and what areas you should improve, but don’t stop there. Collect the insights you gathered and set goals and action items. You can utilize the SMART criteria where you set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-boxed goals. The Scrum Master must not take-on action items. Ask for volunteers to tackle action items instead of assigning them. It is also recommended to have a “tweak wall” where the action items and owners are displayed in a shared workspace, allowing the team members to provide notes and comments. It might also be useful to set time after the Scrum to attend to action items. Last, and certainly not least, the team must take responsibility towards improvement. Salvation comes from within the team. The benefits don’t just outweigh the results of the project but improve the overall satisfaction and happiness of each individual member of the team. And remember, if your organization needs assistance with project management strategies and best practices, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d love to help you get started.