For me, without a doubt, the most important event in any sprint.
I find it so important, that I think we need to do it even when using other frameworks, like Kanban.
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”agilemanifesto.org
Without an event to look back, inspect what we have done, we cannot look forward and know if we are on the right track.
It is very important to constantly look at what you have done, get your bearings and change your approach if needed.
Learning from the ancients
As a Portuguese person, we learn a lot during school about the way we navigated around the world. The tools. The boats. The routes. And the countries we went too.
I was always fascinated about it, how can they do it for so long? These trips use to take a long time. You would have to navigate around entire continents. How could you do it without getting off course?
After learning about it, it wasn’t that hard per se. In a sense, it was just common sense.
What they did was, from time to time, they look at their instruments. Look at where they were going. If they were going away from the bearing they set for that part of the journey? Just turn the boat in the right direction.
So simple, right?
There is a trick
The trick here is looking at it from time to time. Not a very long time, otherwise this would mean you go a lot of course. Not a very small time, otherwise you would be just spending time looking at the instruments.
This is why I think it is so important to have a retro. I also think there is very important to track what you do, get some instrumentation.
Now the question. How do I do it with my teams?
The retro toolkit – Improvements
Start with what you need to improve. Ask everyone to think back at the last iteration and come up with some points of improvement.
Make sure your team members add to each point of improvement, how much they think this would improve what we do if it got fixed next sprint. This helps the discussion of what are high importance vs low importance items.
When everyone has finished, let’s say, 10m after we start. Put the items in one of these 3 columns.
- What we can change and improve.
- What we cannot change but we can influence.
- What we cannot do anything about.
This is called the sphere of influence. By adding the items to these columns we want to make sure we focus on the things we, as a team, can do to improve our work first.
After all, items have been placed, vote them with whatever system works for you. This will help understand what is a priority for all the team members. We should tackle high priority ones first.
Come up with S.M.A.R.T actions. Assign them to someone, not everyone, otherwise nothing is done. And ask for a due date. The due date is internal. A commitment each member does to the team.
The retro toolkit – Highlights
After the improvements, I always like to jump to the highlights. Finish strong by finding positive things that happen during the sprint.
You can give kudos to another colleague.
Highlight something awesome.
Or, just mention anything that had a good impact on you during the sprint.
This one is pretty straight forward, there is not a lot that can be said.
The retro toolkit – Happiness meter
This is where I think my retros move a bit away from the standard.
I like to ask my team members how they feel regarding the last iteration. And I divide that happiness into 3 categories.
Within the Sprint
- How happy are you with how the sprint went?
- How happy are you with what we delivered?
Within the Team
- How happy are you working with these people?
- How happy are you with the way we work?
Within the Company
- How happy are you with our company culture?
- How happy are you with the decisions of the company?
These are just some examples of questions that you can have in mind when voting on each of the categories.
The voting is for 1 to 4. Anything equal or below 2 is considered unhappy, 3 and above happy.
If a team member is unhappy, it is important to understand why. You can take that conversation offline and then add the remarks to the retro.
Same thing if a team member is very happy. It is also important to understand why. If we are doing something good, maybe we should double down on it.
The good think about the happiness metric is that you can track it over time. After a couple of iterations, you can understand, just by looking at it, when we had a bad iteration. When the company made a decision no one liked. One a team enters a storming phase, and also when they move away from it.
Do it like the old Portuguese discoverers. From time to time, look at your instruments and set your bearing. And then who knows, maybe you can discover new worlds.