A Retro a Sprint Keeps the Doctor Away

My Retrospective Diary

Sebastian Seitz
Post-it notes from a retrospective meeting on a whiteboard

Starting with this post I’d like to share some insights on how we do agile retrospectives at Alasco. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in agile-positive environments and learn from experienced agile coaches like Torsten Wunderlich and Manuel Küblböck. In the summer of 2018 I eventually did the scrum master certification to learn more on improving teams from the inside!

Due to the fact that me and my teams mostly work(ed) in an agile environment, we profited a lot from online resources on agile practices. This is my way to give back to the agile community. You can find some insights on how we approach challenges to optimize our processes at Alasco. Additionally, it’s a great way for me to re-think the experiences made and to re-learn from them even more - so it’s a win-win ;)

One of the best tools for continuous improvement are retrospectives. Not only do they have a fixed place in the scrum cycle but are targeted to answer the three most important questions:

What worked well? What did not work well? What are we going to change?

There’s probably countless ways to get answers to those questions, but in my experience it often pays off to follow the process outlined in the great book “Agile Retrospectives” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.

Following the five steps from the book I’d like to show the activities I chose to use in my very first retrospective as a moderator.

Set the stage

Get people slowly acclimated with the meeting and in the right mood

Activity: Positive and True

Everybody asks their neighbour about a personal positive achievement of the last iteration. The fact of being asked forces everybody to think and tell about their own experience, while setting the mindset of taking an active part in the retrospective. I chose this activity to get everybody settled in the meeting and foster a positive attitude towards the things to come.

Gather data

Help everyone to remember the last spring and collect a shared pool of information

Activity: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Stolen from the great Wild West Retrospective by Manuel Küblböck this targets the past sprint and helps to collect ‘wild’ ideas of what was good and bad for everyone. I even drew the nice little post-it personas that Manuel uses in this retrospective.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With this activity I targeted for an unordered collection of impressions about the past sprint from multiple views. Great side-effect: Everyone gets a status update from other team members too!

Generate insight

Why did (the gathered) things happen the way they did?

Activity: The Worst we could Do

Make people think about the future sprint in a solution space. How? By letting everyone write down ideas on how to ruin the next sprint! This gives some edge on the usual games and supports attendees in thinking outside the box.

Decide what to do

Pick issues to work on with concrete actions

Activity: Three by Three

Everyone writes three ideas on what to do to improve the next sprint, loosely based on the phase before - it’s great if somebody has a new idea too of course! By ensuring to do three rounds of three ideas we can leverage what I like to call last-minute-craziness. At some point you’d run out of “logical” ideas so at this point you might find new approaches disconnected from your existing views and processes.

Close the retrospective

Bring attendees back to “reality” Activity: I was very keen on getting feedback as this was the very first retrospective I moderated! I used the last couple of minutes to let people slowly go back to a work-mindset by giving me their views on me, my presentation and the choice of activities. Very helpful and great insights indeed!

Key Takeaways

In hindsight the following lines seem obvious, but they’re really important to me and I’d like to emphasize those expclicit takeaways again!

Come prepared

It really helped me to prepare the time-intensive things, like drawings, the day before so I could really focus on the attendees.

Find fitting activities

It was very important to really take the time and look for activities that fit well together - too many jumps in context might leave the attendees confused and result in suboptimal actions!

Adapt to reality

Retro starting later than expected? An important discussion used up more time than planned for an activity? Be ready to adapt your activities and schedule to the reality of the meeting, I reduced the “three by three” to a “two by two” for example.

Know your audience

It seems like common sense, but this is something that could really hit me too! Especially with more edgy activities and games not everyone might share your humor - so make sure to find topics you all can relate too!

I hope this helps somebody in the future, stay tuned for more retro diaries to come! As some parting words from my side: If you have a scrum master / agile coach who takes responsibility in keeping the team agile, great! But it’s always a team effort to keep growing and improving by actively listening and providing feedback :)

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