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The Sprint Retrospective: Looking Back to Innovate

Be like water

17 March 2016

Alex DiPasquale

Sprint retrospectives provide an opportunity to reflect. We ask our team what went well, what some areas for improvement are, and how we can improve. Simply stated, we ask our team to “innovate.”

What is innovation?

Innovation is a new or more effective process. It is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing needs. Innovations are not always groundbreaking concepts or disruptive technology; sometimes innovation is just finding a better way to do things. It is our team’s way of being fluid and adjusting to changes.

Innovating is a process, it’s an action, it’s a verb! It is the act of evaluating what we’re doing, deciding if it is efficient, brainstorming a better way to do it, deciding and implementing our new idea, and evaluating our progress. Innovation is fluid.

Innovation’s natural flow — it starts with discovery

Teams handle discovery in the sprint retrospective by asking, “What to stop and what to start” or “What went well, what didn’t go well,” or whatever your team calls it. This is where we uncover a need, an inefficient process to fix, or something we want to try differently.

Brainstorm like a tornado

If we’ve done our job and created a team culture of transparency and open exchange of ideas, then this is an easy conversation to initiate: “OK, team, what do you think we can do to fix this?” Thus begins the brainstorming process.
Think of brainstorming like a tornado. A tornado is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. As we talk, we begin wide. As we talk about solutions, we narrow down until we come up with a plan.

We create an implementation plan (it’s our path)

Calling it an “implementation plan” is too formal for me; I like “path.” And I try to check in on it all along the way. As ScrumMaster, I take notes during the retrospective and then reiterate our plan during the daily stand-ups by providing feedback. “That’s great progress Bill, and it falls in line with what we discussed at the retrospective” or “That’s great, but as a team we decided to do ‘X’, let’s work toward that goal next time.”

While transparency allows the team to talk about anything at any time, the next retrospective is where we make sure to talk about our “innovation.”

Now that we’ve tried, we decide

As we discuss the last sprint, what went well and areas for improvement, I do my best to relate back to our goal from the last sprint. Phrases like, “Yes, and that was a goal from our last sprint” or “We talked about doing this in the last retrospective and it went well” or “We implemented this in the last sprint and this happened” help open the dialogue about our innovation.

As we reflect, the team decides whether we want to continue with our innovation as is, adjust it, or try something else.

Advice from karate

Famous karate master and action hero Bruce Lee famously said, ”You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

Lee would have made a great ScrumMaster and leader. He knew that innovation is how we adjust to our situation and find the best way to work. Innovation is fluid, like water. Be like water and innovate.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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