Ohh retrospectives how I pity you. Misunderstood and misused.
It is the final ceremony in a sprint, it is then the connection between sprints. The engine for continuous improvement as the core to iterate and increment on HOW the work is being done and improve their self-management.
It is such a crucial ceremony, with just 141 words that describe you in the 2020 scrum guide. Yet complete books have been written about it and how to conduct it and make the most out of it.
Here I will simply focus on what I sins team commit with the retrospective. These sins are easy to address as a start. Yet are very easy to fall into.
No preparation or plan before it:
As with every meeting, event, or activity. You have to be prepared to make the most out of it.
Scrum ceremonies are not a surprise event, the timing is known ahead of time and usually stay the same. No excuse there.
Preparing is even more important to retrospectives because you do not have any external input. All input is internally from the team. Collect insights, build hypothesis, research solutions and be ready.
Turning into a blame game:
If things went well in the sprint, the challenge becomes how do we find the right trigger for improvement.
When things don’t go well, it is easy to fall into the blame game. Even if the blame is well placed, it is ineffective to create solutions.
In this case, it is important to build on the psychological safety within the team. Focus on solutions and become future oriented to avoid the pitfalls we had in the past.
Not sharing deep enough insights:
The reasons to cause lack of deep insights are varied:
- Lack of psychological safety
- Lack of courage and avoiding conflict
- Lack of measurable factors
Regardless of the reason, it is important to invoke the right insights and work collectively as a team to address those insights.
Make sure you structure an insight collection mechanisim and maintain it.
The first victim to the team being “busy” is the retrospective.
Too busy to improve syndrome is dangerous.
If the team asks to skip it then it is a sign the scrum master is failing in making it effective.
If skipped, there needs to be a good justification that makes it clear why and how this is temporary.
No actionable items for improvement:
The retrospective should finish with actionable items.
Sometimes teams use it to unwind and let off some steam, it is fine rarely. However, the focus on improvement and specific action plan is fundamental to improve the teams effectiveness and quality.
Make sure it is more than just talking.
No follow up on actionable items:
So you have an action plan, items you have done from the previous retrospective. Without follow through those action items are just words.
What’s worst is that the team will start feeling the point is to identify improvements instead of implementing improvements.
Follow-through with actions gets the results, or at least a change at improvements.
Sharing the results outside the team:
The retrospective is for the team, the only items that can be shared outside the team are action items that need to be done outside the team.
No managers allowed, not CEOs allowed. The retrospective is a sacred safe space for the team. They can fight, they can have fun, they can do what they want as long as we are improving and NO ONE is allowed without the teams permission.
I can tell the teams maturity level and potential by attending a single retrospective. A simple question: Is the retrospective an engine for improving the teams effectiveness? If not, adjust. If yes, god bless.