Best practices in Agile Retrospectives

agile scrum retrospective meeting best practices dos dontsOne of the core Agile practices is to inspect and adapt. We inspect the developed software in the business review or demo meeting to ensure that we are delivering the right product. And we inspect how the team performs and interacts in the retrospective meeting to make sure that we are working in the right way and that we keep improving.

We should work on maximizing the benefits of the retrospective meeting and adapt according to its outputs, or it will turn into a useless ritual.

In this article, I share some tips on things you can do to improve your retrospective meetings, and things you should avoid as well.

Do

  • Make the retrospective a safe place to express issues. Team members should not feel worried about expressing their opinions on things that need to be improved. They should be totally comfortable to speak.
  • Ask, “What else?” instead of, “Anything else?” You know, these small things matter. Deliver the message that team members are welcome to contribute instead of a message that says, “Enough wasting time, I’m bored already.”
  • Motivate the team to participate. In a team new to Agile, we played a game to encourage all members to participate. Each member in his turn named a point to improve, introduce, or stop doing — or he could use his pass card (each member had a “pass” card that he was allowed to use once). The winner was the last one to use the pass card, the one with the most ideas. Revise the game as needed, according to team conditions.
  • Give a hand to introverts and shy people. You know that guy who prefers “Pull to refresh” on his mobile Twitter app to engaging with what’s happening around him in the meeting. We need to listen to him too. He has a lot in his mind regarding how things are going — or should be going. Don’t pull him suddenly out of his safe corner by asking him directly to participate. Give him safety and a hidden invitation to speak by saying something like, “We’ve not heard anything yet from the group in the corner.” This is better than focusing the spotlight on him directly.
  • Change the structure of the three common questions. Especially in teams with high negative energy, I prefer to structure the meeting in terms of: What to introduce, what to keep doing, and what to stop doing (instead of: What went right, what went wrong, and what to improve). Although I personally believe that the second, standard format makes more sense, teams sensitive to self-criticism might prefer the first.
  • Plan the retrospective. After the team breaks the ice, gains trust, and becomes confident that opinions and ideas mentioned in the retrospective are valuable and make real changes, you can change the retrospective to another format. Instead of having a brainstorming-style retrospective, the ScrumMaster can gather feedback from the team during the iterations, and agree with the team in advance about the agenda of the retrospective, in order to focus on deep discussion and problem solving during that meeting.
  • Make it fun! This is always best, especially if team morale is low or the team is new to Agile and used to feedback meetings where the manager points fingers at them. Try to make the retrospective meeting an enjoyable experience. Be creative with this. The team likes pizza? Get them some!
  • Keep track of previous retrospectives and review results. This is important. The team will lose trust in and appreciation of the value of the meeting if action items are not applied and the owner (the ScrumMaster, in many cases) does not make any progress.
  • Prioritize action items. Handle these as you would product backlog items. Keep a backlog of impediments and action items, in prioritized order, to get the greatest value.
  • Timebox. Just as in other Scrum activities, you can benefit from timeboxing to get the most out of the retrospective meeting and keep the team focused on achieving the required outcome.

Don’t

  • Play the blame game. This is not a flaming meeting where team members blame each other for the bad things that happened. Adopt a positive attitude toward the problems the team has. The objective is to get better.
  • Suppress feelings. If some team members feel depressed or unsatisfied because of some practices, give them some space to let these feelings out. Discuss them rationally instead of suppressing or denying them. Don’t let the negative attitude control the meeting either; this can be done by getting suggestions and ideas instead of complaints.
  • Include uninvited external members. This is a team meeting. The PO or other managers should not attend unless invited by the team to discuss specific issues. Like couples, teams need some privacy.
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