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The Retrospective is the event in Agile which brings in the iterative, inspective and adaptive nature into picture. The team reflects upon the previous timebox with a view to learn some lessons, adjust the behavior or environment in order to improve their experience.

A Retrospective is a special meeting that takes place at the end of each sprint, in which the team members gather to inspect and improve their methods and teamwork.

Since Retrospectives happen during the sprint, the lessons and improvements that result from them are applicable and relevant to upcoming work on the next sprints.

Advantages of Retrospectives include the following

  • Improved Productivity : By applying lessons learned and reducing rework, the team can get more productivity work done.
  • Improved Capability : Retrospectives provide a venue for spreading knowledge, so does the number of people who can perform tasks associated with the knowledge.
  • Improved Quality : We can improve quality on our projects by finding the circumstances that led to defects and removing the causes.
  • Improved Capacity : Retrospectives focus on finding process efficiency improvements, which can improve the team capacity to do work.

What is a Retrospective?

Retrospectives are important because they give the team visibility into issues and help them to take action to correct course and make work environment more efficient and more productive.

  • Retrospectives is a 3 hour (max) meeting at the end of the Sprint .
  • This meeting is held after the Sprint Review Meeting. This helps the team to review what is working and what is not.
  • Two main questions are asked in the sprint retrospective: What went well during the sprint? What could be improved in the next sprint?
  • Team then can take actions going forward
  • All team members reflect on the past sprint
  • Make continuous process improvements
  • Mandatory attendees are Scrum Master and the Teams. Sometimes you may invite the Product owner also.
  • To bring in a neutral viewpoint, you may want to bring in a unbiased attendee also such as a ScrumMaster of another team

What is not the objective of Retrospective

  • The Sprint retrospective is a meeting “By the Team” and “For the team”
  • It is not a performance review by senior Management
  • Nor is it a postmortem meeting where the goal is to assign blame

Making Retrospective Effective

The Retrospective is not an easy meeting to conduct or to keep on track. Depending on different personalities within the team, the tendency may be to keep the meeting to be a “Goody Goody” meeting and keep all the dis-functions under the carpet. Alternatively, it may turn out to be a virtual “free for all slanging match” where team members blame each other. Either ways, the meeting can turn out to be counter-productive.

Some of the best practices for conducting a retrospective are following a step wise process. The steps in the retrospective could be

  1. Set the Stage
  2. Gather data
  3. Generate Insights
  4. Decide What to Do
  5. Close the Retrospective

Set the Stage

At the start of the retrospective, we need to set the stage to help people focus on the task at hand of reflecting on how things went. One could Start by creating 3 lists

o   What is working

o   What is not working

o   What we could try in the next Sprint

Activities to help set the stage include

  • Checkin : This exercise helps people put aside their concerns and focus on the retrospective. In a round robin format, the people are asked to summarize in one or two sentences what they hope to get from the retrospective.
  • Focus on/Focus off : This activity is used to establish a mindset for productive communication. A white board setting some ground rulescould be a good ides. Examples of Ground rules for retrospective may include “Inquiry rather than Advocacy”, “Dialogue rather than debate”, “Conversation rather than Argument”, “Understanding rather than defending” etc.
  • ESVP : This is a anonymous exercise in which the participants identify themselves with one of the identities

o   Explorers : Explorers are eager to learn and discover new ideas

o   Shoppers : Shoppers are the ones who will go home even if they learn one useful idea

o   Vacationers : Vacationers are not very interested in the retrospective but they are happy to be away from their day-to-day job.

o   Prisoners : Prisoners feel that they are being forced to attend and would rather prefer to do something else.

The anonymous results are collected and tallied for the group to guage the participants level of energy and commitment. Accordingly the Retrospective can be planned to invite better participation or decide if you can get the Vacationers and Prisoners get interested and make them atleast the Shoppers.

  • Working agreement: In this activity, small groups of participants are made and they are given different topics to work on. Then the groups are asked to define and explain the working agreements they would like to see in place for the retrospective. Then with the entire group we spend time clarifying and refining ideas, building a single master list to work from.

Gather the Data

In this phase, the team creates a shared picture of what happened during the sprint (or release, depending on the focus of the retrospective). Without a common vision for what occurred, the team may simply speculate on improvements and may end up not working on the real issue.

Various Data Gathering techniques already detailed in this book can be used. To recap, following are some of the data gathering techniques

  • Timeline
  • Triple Nickel
  • Color code dots
  • Mad, Sad, glad
  • Locate Strengths
  • Satisfaction Histogram
  • Team radar

Generate Insights

This stage gives the team time to evaluate the data that was gathered in the earlier step and derive meaningful insights from it. Various techniques which can be used to generate insignts include

  • Brainstorming
  • Five whys
  • Fishbone diagram(also known as Ishikawa diagram)

Decide What to Do

The activities of this step move the team away from the current sprint towards the next one by thinking about “what to do better in the next sprint”. The team identifies and prioritizes the action items and creates plan for experiments to achieve the desired result.

Various techniques to decide include

  • Retrospective Planning games
  • Fist of Five
  • Voting
  • Round robin

Following are some of the important recommendations while making decisions

  • Prioritize the inputs received and arrive at a prioritized list of actions. Assigning priorities are very important since things can get lost and the team might not end up doing things differently
  • Try only a few things at a time. Do not try to do everything.
  • Assign specific actions to people for what needs to be done
  • Agree on what Penalty would be if the actions are not taken. These penalties should be friendly penalties and not threats because threats can be counter-productive. Example of a friendly penalty could be that a team member “buys coffee or lunch for the entire team” if he/she does not complete the task.
  • Find ways to make the meeting fun. Use of Humour is recommended. Bring in some food/Snacks or plan to go for coffee after the retrospective.

Close the Retrospective

The final step is closing the retrospective. In this team the team members are given opportunity to reflect on what happened during the retrospective and to express appreciation to each other. Activities that summarize what the team decided to keep and what to change, what the team is thankful for and what the team decided to improve or continue as-is going forward.

There are several team-based activities that can be used in this stage which include

  • Plus/Delta : In this exercise the facilitator captures and validates the team’s ideas for what the team should do more of and what the team should change.
  • Helped, Hindered, Hypothesis: This exercise helps generate feedback on the retrospective process itself and produce ideas for improvement. To run this session, three flipcharts are prepared which are titled “HELPED”, “HINDERED” and “HYPOTHESIS”. The participants then write on postits and paste on the different flipcharts. The ideas are collected and evaluated for future consideration.
  • Return on Time Invested: This is an exercise to get feedback from participants if their time was spent appropriately.
  • Appreciations: During this exercise the team members express gratitude towards others and appreciate others for help, contributions or helping them solve problems.
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