Do Retrospectives Really Have Any Business Value?
7 tips to make retros worthwhile
21 March 2016
When I spoke a few weeks back to a friend who is a ScrumMaster, he shared his concern that the retrospective meeting with the team had become so boring thing that neither he nor his team members felt they got any value from it. I have faced this challenge myself and would like to share few things that I learned from my experience with my fellow ScrumMasters and coaches and the community. Those learnings in fact strengthened my belief that the retrospective meeting is still the strongest tool in the Agile toolbox to make our team, project, and company better, and it can deliver value.
1. Share the outcomes of the previous meeting
People tend to abstain if they find that nothing from previous retrospective has improved. The difference I have observed when sharing outcomes with the team is that they do realize that a few items under "areas of improvement" from past meetings have in fact become "things that went well" in the latest sprint. A word of caution, however: Do not force yourself to prove that everything has improved; be honest in admitting that some things have not changed.
2. Give a pat on the back
When my team members do something exceptional, I try to appreciate them in person and give them a pat on the back. I believe the retrospective meeting is a good occasion to call out those performances. Wait for your other team members to do this first, and if they don't, then make sure that you, as ScrumMaster, praise the exceptional work. Nothing motivates a team member more than a co-member’s appreciation. Also encourage your product owners and business leaders to send formal appreciations. This also works well with distributed teams.
3. Coach them to be prepared
Coach the team to be prepared for the meeting. When you a see that a particular mistake from the past tends to repeat, gently remind the team before it occurs. For any new issue you see impacting the team, remind them that the group can discuss it in the retro. During the meeting, encourage them to speak more based on data points than on being generic, and to focuson things that the team can control. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
4. Change the meeting pattern
The same meeting pattern sometimes makes retrospectives boring. Mapping your sprint to something from real life can add real fun and helps keep ideas fresh. Compare your sprint to a current baseball or cricket or soccer game. Ask questions using game terminology, such as, "Did the team have enough preparation to get in the game? Which half did we play well? What should we try differently in the next game?" Even such simple questions can help put a different perspective on the thought process.
5. Press the SOS button: Escalation
While captaining your ship, if you see issues disturbing the team recurrently, do not hesitate to escalate them. Environmental issues, build failures, domains not resolving dependencies, etc., cause disruptions. This is especially true if you have short sprint durations. Escalate to senior management.
6. Show them trends based on metrics
Sharing sprint metrics, such as the team's average velocity, bugs logged during the sprint, etc., during the retrospective helps the team understand the trends of their performance. I have seen that this has enabled my team to make their own decisions in terms of how many stories they can commit to, to come up with ideas to reduce defects, and more.
7. Say thank you
Ending the meeting with a thank-you, appreciating their active participation, matters a lot. It creates a feeling of being important and listened to, and this instills a sense of belonging. Also, when they see that their suggestions are put into action, they will be more actively involved in future retrospections.
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