How to lead Effective Agile Retrospectives Sessions.

(This post is based on Rob's Guide to Effective Retrospectives)

Facilitating an #Agile Retrospective session is super easy and anybody can do it.

Facilitating a productive, engaging and efficient Agile Retrospective session, however, requires practice and a very special set of skills that not everyone has nor is aware that are needed.

The SoftwareDevTools team has been working to improve Agile ceremonies for remote teams for quite some time. When we researched how to improve Agile Retrospectives in different teams (We even took a look at Retros in non-tech teams), we found many areas of opportunities for remote teams to have better sessions. But we also found that sometimes, the lack of better results is due to the person leading the Retrospective session. So, after quite some time, we decided to put together a quick blog post on "How to lead effective Agile Retrospectives sessions".

Agile Retrospectives

If you're on an Agile team, and you think you have this leadership problem, or even if you're the Scrum Master or Product owner leading these, read on to find out what you need to do in order to improve your team's results in the path to continuous improvement.

Retrospective facilitation involves a set of skills

There's plenty of people certified in these skills, and to properly lead such #Agile ceremony is really nothing out of this world. But sometimes teams do not have an Agile Coach. All of this takes practice and sometimes few people in your team are even interested in doing so. This should not stop your team from having effective Retrospectives sessions. Here's the basic Retrospective Agenda to follow, and some simple tips.
Bottomline, what you want to do is making sure the meeting is not led by the loudest guy in the room just because he's the loudest. Or having a long, rambling debate and end up with no actual results.

Rotate the facilitator role

The most common problem with retrospectives is the fact that is usually one person's job to facilitate them. This is definitely a bad practice. Having the same person lead the session everytime prevents the team from feeling truly empowered to work on their problems or areas of opportunity. It may very well be one person's job to make sure they happen and everyone shows up, but that does not mean they also have to run every retrospective.
Instead, try and get everyone to take turns at facilitating these sessions (You should actually try this for every #Agile ceremony).
There are many other side benefits, including:

  • Learning how to facilitate is great for developing communication skills and generally how to have effective meetings.

  • The burden of planning retrospectives is shared across multiple people.

  • Retrospectives are less likely to become dull or repetitive.

Get someone outside of the team to facilitate

Really easy to do if you have more than one team. Even facilitators from cross-disciplinary teams. This is a great way to avoid the risk of facilitator bias in your sessions and even better, has the side-effect of being a great way to cross-pollinate ideas between teams.

Retrospectives in Confluence template

Achievable actions items and owners for each action item.

Probably the most common mistake with retrospectives is either not having actions items as a result of your session or the action items not being followed up on.
First of all, you need to make your action items small, actually achievable. Vague goals like "improve communication" are pointless. Also, it is good practice to start taking a few action items, even if you end up with a lot of them.
Then, you need to make sure someone is responsible for each action item you choose to take away. This does not mean to have the person who is going to do the work, just the person who is responsible for making sure the work gets done.
We wrote about this in a previous post on "How to improve Agile Retrospectives"

Usually, remote teams have a hard time keeping track of action items, due to the lack of an available board dedicated to Retrospectives follow up. A great way to overcome this barrier is to use a tool like Agile Retrospectives for Confluence or if your team uses Jira, try the Agile Retrospectives for Jira app. The tool will guide your team through all of the steps to come up with the most relevant action items, and let you assign them to your team members in Confluence for proper follow up. The resulting template is always visible to the entire team.

Agile Retrospectives for Confluence

Start each retrospective by going through the actions from the previous one

If the team took 5 actions items in the previous session but completed none, there's no point taking any more than 1 action away from this retrospective. Once the team has got better at completing the actions items assigned to everyone, then maybe they can increase the number of action items they take away.

These are just a few pointers that Rob shares, and we wanted to share them with our community. We are sure you will see some improvement by following these simple tips.

Make sure to work on your Agile Retrospectives session, remember, this is the path to continuous improvement. Some team members will rather avoid discussions, but discussions are a great way to enhance and find ways to improve.

Agile Retrospectives for Confluence add-on

Who is Rob?
Rob Bowley, the person who set up the Retrospective’s wiki.


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