There is a wave of advocacy among my ScrumMaster peers that you may have seen if you participate in some of the Agile conversations on Twitter under #pubretro.
Although we are not saying you should carry out your sprint ceremonies under the influence of alcohol, the #pubretro movement — the idea that the sprint retrospective is held anywhere other than the office — has shown me what the freedom of expression can do for development teams when you remove them from their usual place of work.
The sprint retrospective, when done well, is a truly powerful practice. Unlike the other ceremonies, which focus on the product and what is being built, the retrospective gives the team the chance to focus on themselves and how they work together as a group.
A great retrospective can become emotional — a counseling session of sorts. A good ScrumMaster will facilitate and coach the team through these difficult sessions, and the outcome should be worth it; a few early storming sessions will break tension, increase trust, and pull you together as a team. When a team has high levels of trust and transparency, great things can happen for continuous improvement, which strengthen the commitment to the Agile values and principles.
So how can this ceremony be improved by having a #pubretro? I would like to take you through my experiences of introducing the #pubretro to two separate Scrum teams, and the effect I have seen it have.
The retrospective as a safe harbor
At its very core, a retrospective needs to be a safe place: a chance for the development team to take a break from the bustle and energy of a sprint. A figurative safe harbor means that the team can talk honestly and openly without fear of judgment or retribution from either other team members or the company. By providing a more literal safe harbor, such as a pub or a coffee shop, a ScrumMaster can reinforce the message of the safe environment.
The retrospective as a breakaway from corporate culture
The work that a team does, or the product it builds, is inextricably intertwined with the corporate culture, mindset, and location. Certainly early in an Agile adoption, Scrum teams often work slightly out of step with the corporate culture and process, and the looming presence of the "old ways" can be stifling. By physically removing the team from this, you give them the freedom to act in accordance with true Agile values. I have found that when we hold a retrospective in the corporate boardroom or the like, creativity is muted, and the session lacks energy. In comparison, off-site sessions sizzle, and the output is incredible.
The retrospective as a social event
A Scrum development team is a remarkable being — high-performing, cross-functional, self-organizing, honest, and transparent — that has great pride in the product it creates. Development teams are small, and practices, such as pair programming and test-driven development, mean that teammates are often working closely together. In my experience, development teams quickly become friends, and taking the retrospective out of the office can support and encourage this depth of bonding. Placing the team in a social environment lends naturally to organic conversations about life outside of work and can help a team move beyond work and form a deeper bond.
The retrospective as an escape from gate-crashing
The sprint retrospective is a closed session. This means that anyone outside of the development team, the ScrumMaster, and the product owner (if the team invites him or her) is not allowed to attend. Development teams take an honest look at themselves in these sessions and admit their weaknesses. That is why it is imperative that the sessions only include members of the team unless
the team wants to invite someone external. Never force someone on the team (even if it is the director of your department!). Taking the retrospective to an off-site location means that you remove the temptation for management to drop in to see how things are going or prevent them from accosting the team soon after the session to see what they discussed.
I certainly recommend giving the retrospective relocation a try. The potential benefits it could bring to your team, which I have outlined above, are hopefully a compelling reason to take your retrospective out of the boardroom! If you give it a go, I would love to hear your experiences. Join the conversation on Twitter with #pubretro.