It is common to see people getting bored in sprint retrospective meetings, or to bring only a few positive or negative issues to the meeting. I am going to present here an approach that has been working for me and for the team I have been part of. This approach is not intended to be better or worse than other possible tools. It is a suggestion for those who want to try something new (or not that new) in their retrospective ceremonies.
First, let me state what motivated me to think about improving our retrospective meetings. They used to be events where the whole team (except the product owner, who was usually someone from the customer side) sat around a table and then started raising, with no predefined order, things that went well (positive points) and that went wrong (negative points) during the sprint. After listening to all the members, or to those who felt comfortable contributing and discussing, we used to define, for each negative point, at least one action to be taken and who would be responsible. As soon as the actions were defined, the meeting was finished.
This seems to be a regular process for retrospective meetings. Not that bad. Not that good. Just OK. However, it is not hard to point out some cons about this process:
People usually forget what went well or wrong during a sprint. It is not feasible to think that everybody is going to remember, during a two-hour meeting, everything that happened over three weeks.
Some members do not feel comfortable raising a problem in front of their colleagues. So they prefer not to talk at all during these meetings.
Actions are created by the team, but how will they be tracked, and how will the team even remember to take them?
In order to tackle these three problems, we came up with the idea of creating a Retrospective Wall Board. It is basically a wall board, easily accessible to any team member, that has three columns: Positive, Negative, and Actions, as illustrated in the following picture.
In the Positive column, a team member can paste post-its and express what he considers positive about something in the project at any time. Putting his name on the post-it is not mandatory. Similarly, in the negative column, the member states what is going wrong, from his perspective. The Actions column holds all actions opened in the last retrospective, as well as those that were not taken in previous sprints. An action card basically includes a description, when it was created, and who is responsible for taking it. As soon as an action is taken, the responsible person fills in the execution date on the card.
Apart from these columns, there are also two cells where we keep the percentage (taken/total) of actions taken in the last and in the next-to-last sprints. Thus the team can have a measurement that says whether they have improved. Important: As with any other metric, it requires fair analysis and cannot be considered good or bad by taking into account only the raw values.
After applying this tool for few sprints, we could see an improvement in the quality and the number of negative and positive points created by the team. If you decide to use it with your Scrum team, keep in mind the following tips:
Keep the board in a place where people can see it and where they usually pass when going to have coffee, lunch, and so on.
In the beginning, you can establish a goal for each member. For instance, each member has to open at least one positive and one negative point before the meeting. This may sound like an obligation, but it may help you "teach" the team members.
Set a good example. As soon as you realize something good or bad when talking with your team, stand up and paste a post-it on the board. This simple action will show team members how important it is to write down a point as soon as it comes up.