Creating a More Meaningful Retrospective

The 12th Agile Principle states, “At regular intervals the team should reflect on how to become more effective, then tune and adjust behaviour accordingly”.

Key to this in Scrum is the Sprint Retrospective, which aims to create the opportunity for teams to reflect on the previous sprint and as a tool for continuous improvement.

As with most Agile behaviour, it sounds simple but it’s really difficult to do in practice. Continuous improvement requires change, and teams may reach a stage where they are resistant to change or simply don’t have the insight around what to change (as the old saying goes, they can’t see the wood for the trees!).

One of our teams had reached this state where the retrospective wasn’t adding much value any more.

Through a journey of trial and error, we found that achieving the balance between both qualitative (focusing on the feelings of the team) and quantitative (data driven) discussions we were able to turn things around and maximize the value we were getting out of our retrospectives.

In addition to the more well-known measurement tools like the burn down and team velocity our team undertook an exercise to create their own set of performance / focus areas that they deemed important and were happy to be measured against. This included anything from “Pair Programming” to “Updating our Scrum Board”. The result was that at every retrospective the team would provide a rating out of 10 and discuss the improvements that we had made.

It is important at this point to note that team engagement in the process is critical. At no point were these measurements imposed by management, which could be disastrous if it drives the wrong behaviour. Without team buy-in, the opposite behaviour to its intention is too often the result.

By having specific areas of focus and measuring them, we are gathering data by which to drive our discussions rather than relying solely on emotion to address our challenges and issues. This does not mean ignoring the feelings of those in the team as this is an important part of allowing team members to express themselves, feel heard and acknowledged.

What we have found with this approach;

  • Team Members are more engaged and eager to participate.
  • Improvements are measured on a sprint basis.
  • There is comparative data to guide future discussions.
  • Our retrospectives are all encompassing allowing for more focussed discussions and well as freethinking.
  • There is a common focus and team cohesion.
  • The team takes responsibility and holds themselves accountable for contributing to improving and getting better.
  • It fosters an attitude of curiosity around how the team measures up (by their own standards).

In summary, it is important to consider both qualitative and quantitative approaches to balance the mix of emotion and measurement of success.

Context is key, and teams need to be engaged in the process. They need to be part of adding any new metrics or measurements and this will ensure engagement and that we are driving the appropriate behaviour.

Finally, we should always be open to change. Teams evolve, grow and mature and what might be relevant today may simply not be the case tomorrow. In order to ensure continuous improvement and value we need to keep reviewing, inspecting and adapting.