Retrospectives are Important

The Importance of

Project Retrospectives

Project Development

I have facilitated a number of retrospectives in my life using many techniques including both pre-existing strategies and some of my own creation. With one recent team, I helped create the simplest retrospective possible – what went well, what could be improved and any action points. Nothing too in-depth, just a simple retrospective.

The Story

As we are working from home, everything was online so we had a virtual board, where everyone put their “sticky notes” and we discussed them afterwards. Team agreed to start with “what went well” first. One of the points they were happy about was that some discrepancies in the User Interface (UI) and some issues were found before customers could see them. By digging a bit deeper into the “why we were able to find them” it turned out that during some calls or when manually testing other functionalities, team members noticed some things that can be improved or should be fixed. One of the team members suggested, “hey guys, maybe all of us can spend like literally 5 minutes a week to go quickly click through the system – maybe you can notice some more issues”. The idea sparkled a discussion that took 25% of the retrospective´s time, which was great and a bit surprising taking into account that this team is more “silent type”. They communicated a lot, explained their points of view, gave many arguments – it was very awesome! What is more, it “opened up” the atmosphere a bit for the rest of the retrospective, resulting in some really promising outcomes. All of that made me start thinking – is focusing on things to improve the most important during the retrospective?

Two of the three pillars in Scrum are Inspection and Adaptation. As I see in many teams and in my own perception, Inspection usually means “inspect what is not working well” and Adaptation means “think how to fix it”. Of course we also celebrate success, but it is more about telling ourselves “good job” rather than “how can we keep doing the good job?”. Thinking about improvements to the work you’re doing (especially how you’re doing it) is of course important – but do not forget about what already works well and that maybe it should be expanded even further. Like in the example I gave at the beginning – we found a good practice a bit by accident, it worked well and helped us during the Sprint, so let’s continue and expand it.

Tools Can Provide Hints

You can also find the importance of things that are already working in some retrospective techniques like Repeat – Avoid (stressing what was good and should be kept as one of the two main categories), DAKI (drop, add, keep, improve) or Starfish activity (both the full one as well as small/simplified one). I would like to indicate one thing I believe is interesting in terms of the last technique and it is a “smaller” version.

The starfish retro technique consists of 5 categories:

  • Keep doing *
  • Less of *
  • More of *
  • Stop doing
  • Start doing
  •  

The points with a * are the ones that are used both in the “big” as well as “small” Starfish technique. So what about the two that are present only in the big version? “Stop doing” can be treated a bit like a duplicate of less of – if we indicate we want to do 100% less of something, it becomes “stop doing”. However, the point that is more interesting is “Start doing” – it is not present in the small version unlike “Keep doing”. This indicates how important it is to remember about which of our activities help use to be on track. Together with “more of” they show that the focus on the best practice that we should not forget about is at least as important as thinking what and how to fix with new ideas.

While working with different teams, I noticed that we quickly forget how much we have changed over time. How our “Definition of Done” (DoD) became more stringent. How much we can do compared to what we were doing before. How our quality increased. I recommend looking sometimes at how the situation on a project/in a product development looked like e.g. half a year before. It is important to show that what is obvious for us now, might not have been that obvious months ago. Remind yourselves how important those new habits are and why you stick to them. Of course, if the answer is “well, we haven’t moved on much compared to how we were working a few months ago” – then clearly there is some problem, also with retrospective´s and action points discussed. This can lead to some deeper issues like lack of transparency, wrong mindset or lack of transparency. Nevertheless, this is also extremely important to know. Better late than never.

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Author

Karol Kłaczyński

Karol Kłaczyński

Scrum Master

Professional Scrum Master I & II, Software Development

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