Agile Retrospectives: Why your team should be having them, even if you’re not in the tech industry.

Retrospectives

What are Agile retrospectives?

A retrospective is simply defined as, “looking back on or dealing with past events or situations.” Team retrospectives help teams examine what went right and, just as importantly, what went wrong on a project.

The value of Agile Retrospectives

Retrospectives are popular in the team-working world of the Lean & Agile community. It is considered an important part in Adopting Scrum. But the technique was inspired by the works of Virginia Satir, the “mother of family therapy.” She developed a technique called the Daily Temperature Reading, aimed at keeping relationships healthy and happy. The process and questions are different, but the core of the method is to first reflect on what has happened in the past (both positive and negative) and then decide on what to do in the future to improve. Since Agile stresses the importance of continuous improvement, having a regular retrospective session is one of the most important Agile development practices (Check out the Key Elements of an Agile culture).

The Agile Manifesto reads:

“ At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

The agile development process is a fast-paced, iterative work environment that involves short sprints and frequent deliverables. But guess what? So does every other industry in the market! That's why we wrote Agile Manifesto for Everyone!

In the business world, retrospectives tend to be held only at the end of the project, if at all. Such a practice is not retrospectives; you might know them as post-mortem meetings — but by then it’s usually too late to help. You need agile retrospectives throughout the entire lifecycle of your project.

Retrospectives should be frequent (pick a time frame and stick to it. Maybe once a week or at the end of every sprint), iterative (Meetings should be part of your process) and incremental (you should be making progress every meeting, building on top of what you’ve discovered on previous meetings). You need to accurately find and fix problems to help your team today. Retrospectives will help you uncover and solve any obvious and/or hidden problems with your technology, your processes, and even “people issues” on your team.
Agile Retrospectives Comic

Retrospectives will help you uncover and solve any “people issues” on your team. Feedback is good, up to a certain point. Normally, it wouldn’t be easy to tell your co-worker directly when you don’t like his design or approach. But when the open question is asked, “What can we improve?” it paths the way to suggest, “Maybe we can improve our design.”

You’ve heard it said, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” So, if you want to solve the problems that you are having, and deliver more value to your customers, no matter what industry or department are you on, you have to change and improve upon the way you do your work. That’s the purpose of retrospectives in Agile methodologies: To help teams to solve problems and to self-improve!
Great Agile Retrospectives

How to run a retrospective?

The Prime Directive

The purpose of the Prime Directive is to assure that a retrospective has the right culture to make it a positive and result oriented event.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” — Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

The retrospective includes three main questions/points for discussion:

  • What went well during the sprint cycle?
  • What went wrong during the sprint cycle?
  • What could we do differently to improve?

It’s crucial to have an open culture in an agile retrospective, where team members feel free to speak up. It is important that everyone, including the team, product owner, the facilitator, and any other participant, get a chance to air out their opinions in an open, honest, yet constructive atmosphere. Management is often helped too by getting feedback from the team about the work and progress of the project.

Voting

Voting in Agile Retrospectives After enough ideas have been generated, team members vote for the most important item or items. The facilitator can have each team member vote for the one, most important idea or can use any typical multi-voting approach.

Assigning Action Items

To assure that actions from a retrospective are completed, the resulting action items should be listed, assigned a person responsible to follow up and made public.

The Next Retrospective

In the next retrospective, the facilitator should bring the list of ideas generated at the previous retrospective — both the ideas chosen to be worked on and those not. These can help jump-start discussion for the new retrospective.

The Right Tool

If your team is new to retrospectives, or if team members are working remotely, using a tool to coordinate the retrospective meetings is the best way to go. There are several useful tools available depending on the team size and the platform the team uses. Retrospectives for Confluence and Agile Retrospectives for Jira are very useful tools for teams already working with Atlassian tools.

Retrospectives for Confluence will help you:

  • Create topics (What went well? What didn’t?)
  • Vote as a group to define the most important topics.
  • Create and assign action items for follow up.

How to do a retrospective in Jira?

Agile Retrospectives for Jira makes it easy to assign action items and to follow-up. The main reason for using a tool would be because Time is Precious and you will have all the information you need from previous sessions, to make better decisions.

Check it out and tell us what you think!

If you have tried Retrospectives before, then you know is hard for the team to see the value of these meetings. We can help with that. Check out our post about Overcoming Reluctance Towards Retrospectives


Trying to improve your #Agile practices? OR are you getting started with Agile? Are you in a remote team? Check out our products for Agile teams at SoftwareDevTools. We focus on making agile ceremonies more effective and easier to adopt for remote teams.

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