The New Year is a time that fills people with the promise of new beginnings. It is a natural opportunity to look back on our experiences over the last year and set intentions for what is ahead.
It’s a time of reflection and through reflection comes awareness. Whether examining personal or professional achievements, the New Year is a time to look back on your successes and setbacks and use that as a foundation for action. So, it seems fitting that in the New Year, we close out our Agile Series and focus on the final scrum ceremony, the Sprint Retrospective, or Retro.
As a reminder, the five Agile events or ceremonies are:
Sprint Review or Demo
The Retro offers the team the opportunity to reflect on the Sprint outcomes and be deliberate about improving the next one. It’s a short meeting typically facilitated by the Scrum Master where the following three simple questions are answered:
What went well?
What didn’t go well?
What actions will we take?
Sounds easy, right? Not always. While Retros are highly valuable, this ceremony often gets skipped due to excitement about the next sprint, competing priorities, and complacency. Let’s dig into the top challenges we typically experience around the Retro and some good ways to combat them:
Lack of Honesty and Transparency
The discussions in a Retro often feel personal, which can make folks hesitant to speak up. While throughput may be about people, effectiveness is about process. Here are some ways to encourage open and honest discussion:
Lead with core values. Grounding the team on company values is a great way to begin. Even a simple slide with a list of what they are puts it top of mind and promotes a meaningful and respectful discussion.
Establish ground rules that set expectations for a healthy dialogue around the process, not specifics around the people. Comments such as “Requirements were not fully understood during sprint planning” result in better outcomes than “You missed this requirement”.
Limit the Participants. While it’s great to invite the c-suite to Demos to show off the results of the team’s hard work, the Retro should be limited to core members of the team. The Scrum Master can solicit feedback from others and relay it as part of the Retro and a summary of the recommendations or actions can be sent out after the meeting to inform others.
While the team may have good intentions to address feedback, that doesn’t always lead to action. This can mean the improvements you intend to implement in your next sprint don’t stick. We recommend the following:
Translate actions to your backlog, where possible. This will ensure the adjustments you agreed upon are actionable, visible, and accounted for in your next Sprint.
Be deliberate. For more generic feedback that can’t be easily added the backlog, put a mechanism in place to revisit, such as adding an agenda item in your Sprint Planning meeting or seeding the item in your next Retro.
Lack of Engagement During the Retrospective
Like all Agile ceremonies, there is a set agenda and defined structure that can feel monotonous. Coupled with the sheer number of meetings people are asked to participate in these days, this can lead to disengagement. Try the incorporating the following tips to keep people engaged and present:
Collect feedback in advance. We’ve seen great results by sending a quick survey or virtual white board ahead of the actual meeting. It gives time for individuals to reflect and ensures everyone will have a voice. Then the meeting can be used for more fruitful discussion to dig into the key themes and solve problems.
Celebrate success. Even though we lead with the question “What went well”, Retros can often focus too much on areas for improvement. We have found that celebrating the team’s success is a great way to inspire change and leads to better performance and a stronger team dynamic.
Have fun. Themes, treats, games, even trivia can make a Retrospective something that the team looks forward to rather than something they dread. We had one Retro that began with a five minute “What Star Wars Character are You?” quiz and then separated feedback from the “Light Side” and “Dark Side” of the force.
A Retrospective is an important Agile ceremony, allowing the team to look back over what they have accomplished and how they accomplished it while providing a mechanism for continuous improvement. We encourage you to consider some of our recommendations and find what works for you to get the most out of your Retros.
And while you are reflecting on what is going well and opportunities for improvement, don’t forget to check out the rest of our Agile Series, Scrum Events and a deep dive on Backlog Refinement. Here’s to a productive and Happy New Year!
Heidi Schneider is a senior manager with an extensive background delivering complex business transformation efforts. She is passionate about integrating people, process, and technology to make strategy happen.
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