Efficient Agile Retrospectives with Improved Follow-up on Action Items

The key point of doing Sprint Retrospectives is to keep your team committed with continuous improvement practices. Its essence is to “plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness”, as stated on Scrum.org, and its principal outcome are Action Items that serve to achieve concrete progress during the rest of the project. This means that you definitely need a plan to follow up on those items and make your Retrospectives worth the time.

Topics to check

  1. Having a successful Retrospective session
  2. Assigning Action Items
  3. Coming up with an Action Plan

Having a successful Retrospective session

Let’s kick off by reviewing how to properly conduct a Retrospective or Retro. First of all: Remember that a lack of structure or direction will mostly result in a meeting where people blame each other for failures or unattended tasks, drawing away any sense on actually holding the session, as it would only waste everybody’s time, your most valuable asset.

Now that we are on the same page, we will set some general lineages to follow:

Timing

As mentioned before, it should be done after each Sprint. It is also recommended to celebrate a Retrospective session after the whole project has ended.

Duration

We recommend you to always keep any Agile session time-framed and as long or short as needed. Talking about Retros, when allocating time for the meeting, consider the duration of the Sprint to be reviewed. A formula that could work is to invest 45 minutes per Sprint week.

Considering that individual Sprints should last no more than 2 weeks, your longest Retrospective session could run for 1 hour and a half. In this case, be sure to throw some snacks and dynamic activities into the mix.

Conducting the Retro

1.Set the stage: You already know that you should engage every participant with some activities. After the team has connected, the data gathering phase starts. As in any Agile ceremony, there is not a single way to do this, but there are 2 questions that you could ask to get some useful insights:

What went well during the Sprint?

What happened that could be improved on next iterations?

Another technique that could be useful is to review Action Items carried on from the past Sprint (aka as the former Action Plan), because keeping an eye on it is an effective way to make consistent follow up practices. Going further, the specialist Sven Winkler recommends using a Starfish Reflection, which basically consists of listing all Action Items from the past iteration and label them according to these categories:

  • More of
  • Keep doing
  • Less of
  • Stop doing

2.Gather data: This phase serves various purposes, but mainly will get everyone synced and will expand their perspective on the issues and achievements. But over all: It will help the team agree on which are the most important issues to attend.

Consider that in this context, you will encounter two types of data: Objective, being the one that is measurable with numbers (E.g.: Number of meetings, Number of requests, Burndown chart, etc.); and on the other side, Subjective data, which is based on feelings, perceptions and emotions of the team. Be sure to harvest both, as both categories are equally important.

3.Generate insights: After gathering and checking the data, you will be good to go with the analysis of it: What does the data tell? Did you fail to work on past Action Items? Why do you think that happened and how could it be prevented in the future? Does the team agree on which are the main issues to solve?

4.Decide what to do: Now that you are aware of what happened and the reasons why it did so, you should come up with actions to address any issues that made it to the final cut.

Our recommendation to easily go through these phases is to use Agile Retrospectives for Jira or Confluence. This add-on was developed by SotwareDevTools to help teams work better while keeping cost-saving wise. It has proven to be key for remote and large teams, which find using it easier than trying to recreate a face-to-face session.

When we designed these easy to use add-ons, we decided to improve on 3 main elements:

Visibility: A collaborative Retrospective that allows for real-time collaboration. No more taking turns results in a lot of time saved (Remember that time equals money). Also, everyone has access to the session's results at any time so they can go back and check on past sessions items' status.

Engagement: The tool includes custom templates to use your favorite Retrospectives technique, collaborative voting and real-time assignment of Action Items. This makes for dynamic sessions that are easily accessible for everyone.

Follow-up: This is a tricky one. Creating Action Items in our app was not enough to help teams effectively keep them on their top of mind. Now, when working with Confluence or Jira, you can turn any Action Item created during the session into a task and add it to the correct board so it will not go unnoticed.

Take a look at how does Agile Retrospective for Confluence work in this video:

Assigning Action Items

You have had the conversation and the team has agreed on the things that need a follow-up during the next Sprint. Now: Who is going to make sure these items are delivered and who is, in fact, working on them? This should be based on the priority and the work stream.

Think of the following case: If you need to check on a bug bashing process, you might want developers working on that, but it may be wise to ask a product management person to check that the times and ways in which it is conducted, fit with the overall project.

A simple formula to effectively manage your Action Items is:

  • Every task should have an owner, specific to-do and deadline

  • Task completion criteria should be crystal clear

  • Ensure the assignee has all the tools to complete the task

  • Keep balance: One single person cannot handle all the tasks

  • Make sure all the Action Items are present in your project management tool

Coming up with an Action Plan

If you cover these 5 points, chances are your follow-up actions will be correctly incorporated into your next Sprint. This will be the origin of your Action Plan, which basically comprises all your Action Items with the correct structure that will let you pursue an effective goal. According to Creately.com, your Action Plan should include the following:

In conclusion, you have learned some tips to make the best out of your Retros. Remember it is not really a valuable exercise unless the Action Items originated from it are followed up. That is why Agile Retrospectives will help you do the hard job of ensuring everyone has got their assigned item in their backlog. No more forgotten tasks nor delays!

Please let us know how helpful has been Agile Retrospectives for you.


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