By design, the Scrum framework generates opportunities for communication to the team members daily, to the business regularly. The retrospective is my favorite Scrum event as it fosters the ultimate conversation. It allows people to talk! These folks care about their jobs, they care that they have a good working environment, they care to nurture their skills, and they care about issues that are in their way. The retro gives them a voice and an avenue in which speaking their thoughts is appreciated, not subjected to negative consequences.
I’ll never forget the moment when, in the middle of the first retro I had with a new team, one of the team members pressed a sticky note into the palm of my hand. She wrote “Thank you so much for giving us a voice 😊 We needed this”. I have that beautiful sticky note framed on my desk. It is a daily reminder of my responsibility to help the team by promoting healthy communication.
The key to a successful retro is that it is performed in an environment where the team can speak without fear of retaliation. In a traditional environment, it is nerve-racking for folks to voice their concerns to management, and often they don’t, at least until they hand in their notices.
These are the people doing the work, these are the people that know what processes or procedures are standing in their way. These are the employees that industry leaders want to hear from, need to hear from to keep their vision in line with the organization's infrastructure. For this reason, the Retrospective is one of the reasons Scrum is taking the world by storm.
Key notes to a successful retrospective:
- Keep it fun! Fun gets people involved. Involved gets people talking.
- Always start with a brief explanation of the goal.
- Make the action items quantifiable to determine progress.
- Keep an eye for team members dominating over the conversations.
Some cool, useful retro ideas that work:
The sailboat retrospective is awesomely simple. It starts with a picture of a boat drawn on a whiteboard or even a WebEx screen. The sail represents what is going well, what practices are helping the team move forward. The anchor represents things that are slowing the team down. The cliff symbolizes risks or show-stoppers that the team is concerned about.
Each teammate writes on a sticky note their thoughts corresponding to each category and puts it up on the board (I recommend bringing tape in case they don’t stick). Then the group discusses each note. I have put up a score card (dot voting) for multiple notes. The team agrees on which ones are the most relevant, and action items are determined.
My favorite retrospective is the Oscars. I made the mistake of scheduling a retrospective at 4:00 (note to self, don’t do that again). Out of respect for the team, I called time at 4:55, and the team voted to keep going. We were all laughing so hard and having such a wonderful time that we didn’t want to stop! So, we didn’t. It was 5:40 when we finally broke it up.
The Oscars can be whatever you want them to be. We did the
- Best Story
- Most Annoying Story
- The Story that Wouldn't Stop
- Best Performer
- Best Supporting Performer
You can make it into whatever theme is most beneficial to your group. “Most Frustrating Meeting, Best Meeting”. Not only did we have fun with this exercise, we gathered some excellent insight and action items. For example, when Most Annoying Story came up, we gathered information about processes that were impeding their success. When Best Performer was discussed, we found some key personality attributes that we want to promote throughout the team.
Retrospectives offer a chance for the team to find flaws in their structure or processes. A well-done retro fosters communication and highlights practices that need improvements, impediments in the teams. Keep in mind that although fun is good, that the information a retro will garnish is better. Act on the information! Check on the progress of the action items regularly! It is great to find things that the team can do differently and increase the team’s velocity, but if the team sees little actions, they will stop participating.
If you’re interested in facilitating great retros, read the Agile Retrospectives book in our recommended reading list https://www.clearlyagileinc.com/agile-books/. For more insights into the Scrum, check out Clearly Agile’s site at www.ClearlyAgileInc.com. Based out of Tampa, FL
About the Author: As a Technical Scrum Master, it might be surprising that I am not technically inclined. After years in Project Management, I converted to Agile and the Scrum framework after I discovered the real value in adaptation, communication, and transparency. Rachel Schumacher PMP, CSM