Move Beyond 'What Worked' in your Retros

Intermediate

difficulty

Stage 3

Agile IQ® Level

Retrospectives

GUIDES

Process

Practices

Introduction

The purpose of retrospectives is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. [1] How this is done is up to the team to manage. Unless patterns are changed then teams can become disengaged with the continuous improvement focus that retrospectives are intended to provide.

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Don't jump to actions too quickly

Many teams jump from "what worked" to making decisions without understanding the causes of great outcomes, or poor ones, in a Sprint. Unpack what happened and identify the root cause to work out how to make successes repeatable.

Common Patterns

While the Scrum framework is not prescriptive in how Sprint Retrospectives are conducted, there are some common patterns.

  • Review/refection on the past Sprint.
  • Idea generation and idea sharing.
  • Actions for the future Sprint.

Past Sprint

Team members should review what actions or behaviours they had previously committed to. When experiments had been defined, there may be the opportunity to review results.

Idea Generation

Team members can generate ideas on how to improve quality or effectiveness. This is commonly the only part of a Sprint Retrospective that teams play close attention to. The idea generation process can be changed from sprint to sprint, so as to alter patterns of thinking and generate new ideas.

There are many different ways to generate improvement ideas beyond the standard questions of “what worked”, “what didn’t work”, etc. [2][3][4]

Future Sprint

Team members can devise experiments for improvements or actions to take with a focus on improving quality and/or effectiveness. These may consist of concrete actions or behaviours to encourage.

It is recommended to standardise the idea capture/experimentation process but introduce different ways to generate improvement ideas. This helps from the process from becoming stale and keeping team members engaged.

Rotate the Facilitator

Teams can rotate the facilitator of the Team Retrospective. It does not always have to be the Scrum Master. By doing so the team may receive several benefits including having different ideas for facilitation formats from different staff members.
 

Examining Metrics

Many teams jump from “what worked” to making decisions without understanding the causes of great outcomes, or poor ones, in a Sprint.
 
Diana Larsen and Esther Derby’s book, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, highlights a robust framework that reinforces the need to examine metrics before deciding on actions.
 

Set the Scene

Gather Data

Generate Insights

Decide What To Do

Close The Retro

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But, we collaborated well!

It's not enough to say "we collaborated well" in the Retrospective. Uncover what led to great collaboration so you can repeat it next Sprint.

Actions to Try

  • Identify patterns you wish to repeat in every retrospective, and which aspects you want to change on a regular basis.
  • Observe the Sprint and then decide on a pattern that will allow facilitation and discussion around understanding the events of the Sprint.
  • Look for ways to repeat successes and minimise problems that occur in the Sprint.
  • It’s not enough to say “we collaborated well” in the Retrospective. Uncover what led to great collaboration so you can repeat it next Sprint.
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