Achieving the Goal of a Retrospective

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Some teams seem to approach Retrospectives without a real drive to succeed.  Or so it seems.  They just use it to ‘talk’.  About the ‘good, the bad, the ugly’ as I sometimes tease.

Now, talking can be helpful.  Still, we can usually do better than this.

What is the goal of a Retrospective?  Well, I think it should be to seriously improve the Team.

Sometimes, to help them have more fun. And other times to become –‘more productive’ is the usual phrase.  And becoming more productive should be a point of pride for the Team.  That they are good, and they are always getting better.  And that mere fact should be part of what makes them happy.

How do we mean more productive?  Well, I am ok with two ideas about this.  One: we are delivering more business value. Or,  two:  that our velocity has increased (and not by working harder or longer).

So, how do we make this happen?

Well, there is no end of ideas about the details of the Retrospective.  And we need o have many ideas.  Because we need to be creative about improving ourselves.

But let me suggest two basics.

  1. Starting Stuff
  2. Attacking one impediment

By ‘starting stuff’ I mean something fairly brief.  Let’s sat about 15 minutes.  And this section might include the following (or not, if already done or done elsewhere).

  • Some appreciations or ‘yea us!’ or ‘let’s continue’.  Some good news of things going well.  We need some good news.
  • Eliciting some ‘bad news’.  Mostly what we need are new impediments, or impediments not previously identified.
  • Deciding on the top impediment as a team

Note that additional impediments are only useful if it or they are within the ‘top 20’ impediments. Almost surely, anything less important than that is just distracting for the team.

Also, some times the top impediment is entirely obvious to everyone on the team. But certainly not always.

There are lots of detailed techniques for doing this starting stuff.

Also, note that I have implied (and am now saying) that the Retrospective is not a a general talk session.  It is not for general ‘bitching and moaning’.  It is not to ‘answer questions’ or just to ‘look back’ or simply to gather ‘lessons learned’.

And, we must prioritize. And make a significant improvement.

We must work on the top impediment.

Will we always choose the real top impediment?  No.  But we pick the one we think, when worked on, will give us the most benefit (improvement) per unit of cost.  (Ok, a few other factors might also be included.)  We pick our best guess at the top one.

Three things the Team should typically do in the Retrospective to attack the impediment.

  1. Devise a solution.
  2. Develop an implementation plan for the solution.  I do not mean a detailed Gantt chart or WBS. No.  But an approach, and identify who is needed, the basic activities, a sense of who needs to do what.  So that it can then get done.
  3. An A3. Or a business case to a manager.  To get the manager to say ‘yes’.  To money, to providing people, to just approval that the change can happen.

One or more of these 3 should normally take up the bulk of the Retrospective. Normally, actually fixing the impediment is done outside the Retrospective.  By the ScrumMaster, or by the Team, or by someone outside the Team

And, we expect to get measurable improvement (eg, better velocity) in the next sprint.  Usually.

We think if you follow this advice, that your team will find the Retrospective more useful, and will become more productive overall.  And enjoy the happiness of being more successful.

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