The Team Retrospective

Common Sense

Agile and Digital transformations are in many respects, the application of common sense.  However, as the 18th century writer François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume “Voltaire” admonished; “Common sense is not so common.” So many centuries later and it still remains true.  The lack of both common sense and humility – especially on the part of leadership – results in underwhelming outcomes for many agile transformations.  

Why

One common sense issue (and there are many) is that leaders and their teams find it extremely difficult to determine what is truly at the root of a problematic issue.  Common sense dictates having open, honest and direct conversations about matters at hand.  This calls for telling the truth, and doing so as early as possible.  All too often problems are allowed to fester.  The longer the infection remains untreated, the more widespread and damaging it will be.  Being confronted with the truth may not be a pleasant experience.  However, if relentless improvement is the goal, you and the team will listen, learn and adapt with HUMILITY.  A simple but effective way to address the root cause of a problem is by facilitating a discussion called a Retrospective.

How

A Retrospective is a discussion held on a specific cadence (e.g. once per week; once every two weeks; etc.) that allows the team to reflect.  “How well did we do? What are some pain points we encountered?  Where did we fall down? What is at the very heart of the problem we faced?”  Keep a written backlog of items identified, both good and not so good.  Discuss ways to keep doing the good things even better, while selecting one or two items that are in need of improvement for the team to focus on until the next Retrospective.  These one or two improvement items would be those that caused the most pain for the team.  Then, at the beginning of each Retrospective, review the items already on the backlog from previous Retrospectives and determine if there is valid reason for them to remain on the backlog.  If not, remove them.  Otherwise, discuss where they are in terms of prioritized importance.  Do not let issues fall between the proverbial “cracks” unaddressed.  Also, during the Retrospective discuss the status of problem areas the team was focused on improving since the last Retrospective.  Are the issues resolved, or does the team continue to address them for further improvement?

No Finger Pointing

One final caution: the key to an effective Retrospective is doing so without finger printing.  “It’s John’s fault, he could have done a better job!” Or, “Jenna, if you had just done your job this would not have happened.”  Statements like these are not helpful and cause tension, animosity and hurt feelings to arise.  You want your team to draw closer together, not become estranged. That said, be sure to attack the problem, not your team member.  Psychological safety is among one of the most important factors for a successful Retrospective (volumes have been written on this topic).  In short, team members need to know they will not be “attacked” for sharing their opinions and ideas.  Concurrently, the opinions and ideas shared must be done in a constructive, none-demeaning way.  All need to feel comfortable to speak up and be encouraged to do so.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot more to this topic of effective Retrospectives.  If you are uncertain how to proceed, I encourage you to pursue engaging an Agile Coach for guidance.  The bottom line is that Retrospectives are a vital tool for teams to improve productivity, trust and to adapt to change quickly in an even faster changing competitive environment.  Your teams may be good.  However, regular and effective Retrospectives will move your them from good to Great!

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