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“Quick” Tips for Retrospectives

A "Quick" Guide to Retrospectives

If you have worked in the realm of software you have probably heard of retrospectives. Retrospectives are a way for teams to look back on their work and brainstorm ways to improve in the future. Retrospectives can range from a positive experience for all those involved to being downright boring. Below are a few tips for maximizing the value of your retrospectives.


There is no perfect retrospective

There are many ideas on how to run the “perfect” retrospective. Some people say you need to start off with an icebreaker. Then you should follow it up with a deep dive to generate ideas of what to talk about. After that, talk about those ideas and come up with changes. Finally, close out the retro by determining what needs to be accomplished next. This may sound like a lot. That is because it is. The perfect retrospective for one team may not be the ideal retrospective for another.

Figuring out what works best for your team takes time. One thing worth trying is doing a short retrospective on your retrospective.  As your team what they liked about it. Then ask them what they would change. Take those thoughts into consideration for the next retrospective. By doing this you will be able to zero in on the sweet spot for your team’s retrospectives.


You don’t need to come up with every idea

Each week you may find yourself struggling to think of how to structure your retrospective. You want to keep it interesting. Doing the same thing over and over becomes boring and disengaging. You do not have to be a treasure trove of retrospective ideas. Take a break and leverage other Scrum Masters’ ideas. You can even find a few ideas here at Concepts and Beyond. You could try the Lean Coffee style retro.  If you are heading into the December holiday season you could try the Agile Christmas Carol. If neither of those strikes your fancy the world is your oyster. There are a million (okay maybe not that many) posts out there on different retrospective structures. Remember, Scrum Masters typically like to share their ideas. So use those ideas!


Retrospectives are time-boxed

Depending on how long your sprint is, the retrospective should never be longer than 3 hours. If your team is running a one-month sprint, 3 hours may be enough time to unpack everything. If you are on the other end of the spectrum and your team runs a one-week sprint, 30 minutes to 1 hour may be your sweet spot. You do not need to jam-pack a retro with all the different tools and tricks you may have in your arsenal. There is such a thing as doing too much.

Teams that have to sit through a 3-hour retro when a 1-hour retro would have done the trick, will get bored faster and faster at each retrospective. Eventually, they will find it pointless to participate or even show up. You want to find the right amount of time to get a quality retrospective done without boring the team.


Come out of a retro with action items

So you have a few ideas on how you want to run the retrospective and how long it will be. What else could there be? It feels good to get some of the pain points off your chest. The team might feel relieved being able to air out some dirty laundry. That is great. There is more to a retrospective. Before concluding a retrospective you need to make sure that there are action items or stories produced by the discussion.

Team members may say that they feel like they do not need to be at certain meetings. What actions can be taken to alleviate that? Does someone need to ask, “should we be in this meeting”?  Some sort of action item needs to come from the discussion. If nothing happens after the discussion the retrospective’s value plummets.


Different coaching stances

The four common coaching stances of a Scrum Master are Teacher, Mentor, Facilitator, and Coach. This is probably the most challenging part of a retrospective. As a Scrum Master, you need to determine what coaching stance you need to take throughout the session. At one moment you may need to be a facilitator keeping the retrospective on track. Another moment you may find yourself coaching.

Further reading on coaching stances can be found here.


Additional resources:

Dot Voting – A Democratic Facilitation Tool

Facilitation Techniques

Coaching with Powerful Questions

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