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This post is from the Collabnet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Aug 15, 2011 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Retrospective: It Happens at the End, but it’s Just the Beginning

Enterprise Agile Planning
All great (and not so great) teams strive to get better. During the recent Super Bowl run of the New England Patriots, the team undoubtedly made some personnel moves to make the team even stronger. The team was certainly proud of its success, but they took an objective look at their assets and said: “How do we get better?” Around the same timeframe, another team struggled mightily on the football field. The Detroit Lions fought for every game, but rarely found the win column. The Detroit Lions list of “improvement areas” was surely longer than the Patriots, but the team never strayed from the fact that “we will get better”. In the world of agile development , everything moves fast. Your team charges through 2/week iterations and they’re eager to get going on the next one. As ScrumMaster, you appreciate the team’s diligence and zeal, but you must pause, take a deep breath, and grow. How is this done? An important, but often forgotten or neglected “event” or “ceremony” in agile is the Retrospective. When done correctly, the Retrospective focuses on 3 main questions:
  1. What did we do well this iteration?
  2. What could have been improved this iteration?
  3. How can we get better?
A few points about Retrospectives to get you started:
  • How long should they be?There’s no hard and fast rule. Start your 1st retrospective at an hour and gauge its effectiveness. Does this give everyone time to contribute? Were you able to capture learnings that you can share throughout the organization? The team can help police the retrospective’s length. No one likes meetings, but the team will quickly realize how priceless these meetings can be.
  • How do I get all team members to contribute?Important point: you want everyone focused and present in the meeting. No phones, laptops allowed in the room. Do everything you can to make your team comfortable during the meeting. Food, drinks, soft chairs – whatever it takes. At the beginning, for each iteration, you may have to go around the room and require each team member to share 2 good points and 2 improvement areas. Give this time; once your team moves from forming to performing, you’ll have no problem keeping the conversation going.
  • What if my team cites numerous “improvement areas”? How do I know where to start?Baby steps. Your team may be frustrated with QA or marketing, or they may think certain team members aren’t pulling their weight. Remember this is agile; we are open and transparent. Get all of the improvement areas down and then have the team vote on the most important 1 or 2 to focus on for the next iteration. The improvement task won’t seem so daunting and you’ll see gains quicker.
Your team may not turn into the New England Patriots tomorrow, but you’ll dramatically increase your chances of success by embracing and believing in the importance of retrospectives. Who knows? If you start to consistently conduct valuable and open retrospectives, your team might even mistake you for Coach Belichick and eagerly look forward to the next retrospective.Stay tuned: Any good, mature agile team knows that your success will be limited with just low/tech sticky notes and whiteboards. Those tools have their place as a starting focal point for your agile efforts, yet an organization with multiple teams, an keen interest in quickly and accurately delivering and adapting to customer need, providing transparency and visibility to executive management can’t fully realize the gains from effective agile until they’ve invested in an Agile planning and management system. On my next post, I’ll tell you how you can use VersionOne to manage your retrospectives.

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