5 Creative Retrospective Techniques to Master Continuous Improvement

One way in which many teams introduce Agile practicing is by running Retrospective sessions. These are intimate discussions where peers review the past work cycle regarding what went well, what didn't, and what could be improved.

There's a growing trend of professional teams that leverage the advantages of hosting Retrospective sessions. Its benefits, such as enhanced transparency, improved accountability, and team bond strengthening, have become the foundation of a continuous improvement culture for many companies worldwide.

Let's learn more about them and some techniques to help you get started.

Topics to check

1.Agile Retrospectives

a. The Prime Directive
b. Basic Structure
c. Good Practices

2. 5 Retrospective Techniques

a. Sad, Mad & Glad
b. I like, I wish, What if?
c. Three Little Pigs
d. Sailboat
e. 4Ls

1.Agile Retrospectives

Retrospective sessions are a technique that Agile teams use to review their past work cycle synergy. These meetings have a structure meant to facilitate discussions where all core team members express their opinions.

Traditionally, each assistant would answer three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go as well?
  • What could be different?

After everybody has shared their thoughts, the team groups similar ideas into topics and votes for the most relevant. All attendants must participate in all steps, including the closing part, where action items are conceived to fix any issues.

Retrospectives shouldn't turn into savage disputes but instead be based on the Prime Directive, considering that all team members did their best.

a. The Prime Directive

Coined by Norm Kerth and featured in his book Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews (2001), keeping this principle at the core of any session is critical. It fully states that:

Making sure everybody commits to this spirit will also benefit team bonding, as people will consider the differences that backgrounds and circumstances can play into work. This will also help focus on the problem, solve it, and prepare for similar future cases.

Learn more about the Prime Directive here.

b. Basic Structure

There are five stages everyone should follow in order to have a successful retrospective. These are:

Set the stage - Take some time to greet, throw some ice-breakers and make sure everybody understands the point of the meeting.

Gather data - Let attendees write down their ideas about what was good, what wasn't, and what could be different. Use a specialized tool for simplicity.

Generate insights - Group similar ideas into topics, discuss, and select the most relevant.

Decide what to do - Agree on action items to address raised issues and make sure somebody gets assigned to making them a reality.

Close the retrospective - After everything has been said, thank all the attendees for their contributions. Always document the session outcomes.

c. Good Practices

We have laid some essential elements for having a productive Retrospective, which can be considered good practices. But there are some other tips you might want to take into account to further optimize your sessions:

Use a specialized tool - Apps such as Agile Retrospectives for monday.com, Jira, or Confluence, are great to host your sessions with simplicity and highly customizable features. Try them for free.

Always produce action items - Failing to define (and implement) ways to fix detected issues will render your sessions useless. Retrospectives are not project post-mortems.

Keep action items handy - Remember that quality beats quantity. Also, keep expectations realistic and suggest feasible initiatives.

Keep meetings short - Be careful with taking too much time for the session. Our recommendation would be not to exceed an hour and a half.

Experiment with different techniques - Asking people the same questions repeatedly can make them grow tired of attending the sessions at all.

You've got a general idea of the foundation of Retrospectives. Now it's time to check some templates that will help you enhance the continuous improvement culture of your team.

2. 5 Retrospective Techniques

You can expect things to change if you keep making the same over and over again. For Retros, imaging different concepts or scenarios than the old three question formula is ideal for different outcomes.

a. Sad, Mad & Glad - If emotions don't stop while you work and some situations may intensify, base your session around it.

b. I like, I wish, What if? - Similar in essence to the traditional formula, the key lies in its being more emotional and positively focused, causing the participants to develop creative ideas.

c. Three Little Pigs - Try using the classic tale to produce outcomes to strengthen the weak points and keep the good practices.

d. Sailboat - This format is somewhat playful and offers a different approach where the team should portray themselves as traveling on a boat.

e. 4Ls - We can consider this format a little bare, but it's also intended to gather opinions about four different dimensions.

Click on the arrows to learn the details of each Retrospective technique.

Conclusion

Running Retrospectives is an excellent practice to foster and improve the continuous improvement habits of your team. It also helps them be tighter and conceive of each other as complex beings who need to communicate to achieve great things. With the learnings of this article, you can start hosting your sessions right away.

If you'd like to learn more about Retros, we have a whole section in our blog. Check it out!


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