The art of the retrospective

By Gavin in Agile on November 17, 2016

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Retrospectives – regular meetings where the team reflects on and reviews its practices, tuning and adjusting accordingly – are one of the most important Agile ceremonies, yet over time they can deteriorate into repetitive, uninspiring sessions that deliver little real improvement to the way a team works.

We know that retrospectives should drive continuous improvement in the team and are essential for giving everybody a voice at the table. How can we make this happen every sprint?

Running great retrospectives is only possible if you have an Agile mindset. A superficial adoption of Agile ceremonies and artefacts doesn’t cut it. There’s no one way to deal with the all the challenges that arise in projects, and having an Agile mindset ensures you will adapt to changing business needs and deliver value all the time.

Boost’s approach to retrospectives is an example of our Agile mindset.

We keep retrospectives fresh and valuable by varying them according to the needs of the team and the project – we don’t run with the same structure every sprint. Because our coaches are intimately involved with each project team, they identify fit-for-purpose techniques and methods for each retrospective. There are a huge range of activities that can be incorporated in to a retrospective based on the current situation, each helping the team to approach a problem from a different angle. If you ask the same questions each time you run a retrospective, you can expect the same answers.

Our retrospectives also have a bias to action so that things actually change in practice to improve the way teams work. If you don’t arrive at goals each retrospective, and ensure those goals are actioned, the value of the retrospective will be lost.

If you have an Agile mindset, your retrospectives won’t be dull and forgettable but will deliver the lift in performance that Agile promises.

Having an Agile mindset means we are constantly inspecting and evolving our practices. Our teams don’t retain current practices for their own sake. For example, how we manage meteors (P1 outages) in future might be different from what we do today (expediting the outage into the Scrum), if the project’s needs dictate a change. If a team’s Scrum board isn’t providing the value it used to, we change it so that interacting with it is meaningful to the team.

We also innovate with new practices that are not part of the formal Agile process but which are very much in the spirit of Agile as practiced at Boost. We hold a developers’ retrospective, a fortnightly session for all of Boost’s developers to share ideas and work together to improve our software craftsmanship, which has produced fascinating goals that have had a real impact on the developers across all our projects. We also regularly get input from the teams as to what motivates them on an intrinsic level, and how Boost can support those motivating factors for them.

A final example reflects our passion for design combined with our understanding of Agile values and principles. We have developed a successful and unique approach to synchronising UX and design with the rhythm of Agile, ensuring design resource is ready when the team needs it while allowing design to respond to developments in the project as it proceeds. This approach has developed over time with a lot of changes being generated from our retrospectives.

We are constantly improving our Agile craft because we understand that Agile is a mindset, not just a methodology.

What can I do next to run great retrospectives?

Get in touch with Gavin to find out about training and coaching options to improve your retrospectives.

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