Published June 12, 2019

“The retro”

Aginic Delivery Manager James Hume reflects on how the principles behind a key scrum ceremony, the “Retro”, can help teams continuously improve outside of the end-of-sprint activities.

The ability of a team to continuously improve their processes and practices is invaluable. A recent experience has led me to reflect upon how the principles behind a key scrum ceremony, the “Retro”, can help teams continuously improve outside of the end-of-sprint activities. This post echoes my thoughts over the past few weeks about what is a retro and why we bother conducting them.

The What

A Sprint Retrospective or “Retro” is the Scrum Framework’s embodiment of the twelfth principle of agile development. That principle being “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.” Check out Agile Manifesto for a full list of principles. 

The Retro is typically the final activity that a scrum team engages in during a Sprint.

It provides an opportunity for the team to inspect its performance during a sprint and determine actions which will help them to improve their processes during the next sprint. In addition to helping teams improve their process, Retros are also a fantastic way to help new teams progress through the “forming, storming and norming” process.* This is due to the fact that team members are provided a safe environment to provide open and honest feedback on how they viewed the team’s performance as well as align on best practices which can help the team overcome any challenges that are presented by working with a new group of people.

In an age where many people are sick and tired of having meetings to organise meetings, it is important that team member’s find value participating in a Retro so that the best outcomes can be achieved. Some key indicators of a successful retrospective ceremony include:

  • A healthy conversation where all team members are actively contributing, 
  • A set of actions aimed to help improve/remove the team’s pain points, 
  • Team members taking steps to complete the actions identified during the retrospective 
  • Team members wanting to revisit the effectiveness of past actions
  • Team members actively wanting to attend and contribute to the retrospective ceremonies.

The final point listed above, wanting to attend and contribute, is probably one of the most crucial indicators as it is a sign that the team actually see value in the ceremony. 

The How

There are many different techniques that can be used to facilitate a successful Retrospective and each technique is useful in certain situations.  A really good resource for retrospective techniques is the Trello board created by Philip Rogers who has listed out a series of techniques which align with the different phases that a retro can move through setting the stage, gathering data, generating insights, deciding what to do and wrapping up.

Personally, my favourite retro format is the “start, stop, continue” method. As I hail from a process improvement background, I like this method because it is action-based and encourages an objective assessment of the process as opposed to an assessment of how everyone is feeling. It gives you solid actions to take into the next sprint that will lead to improvement. That is not to say that a collective understanding of how the team “felt” about what happened during the sprint is not important! There is a time and place for everything so mix it up, keep it fresh and trial a few different techniques. If you are looking for inspiration for new techniques, the team at retromat have you covered.

The Why

With a well-run retro, you are able to identify key actions which directly address problems that have recently caused the team pain. This has the potential to significantly improve the output/effort ratio as a team is able to deliver a greater amount of output for the same amount of effort. Your project stakeholders will love you!

I also love this concept of sharing and developing best practices within a team. This is because people are more receptive to trying new things if they can personally relate to the purpose behind the practice (this new action is directly fixing a problem I am now facing!). This is much better than forcing best practices down people’s throats at the start of a project. You may have been on the journey and understand why it helps but don’t assume everyone else has. I might delve into that in another post later.

In addition to improving the delivery process, retros can help newly established teams who are progressing through the “storming” and “norming” phases of team development. This plays back to my earlier point about knowing the right retro technique for the right situation. Techniques such as happy/sad/puzzled can help team members in newly formed teams begin to empathise with each other and understand what practices work best for them.

Broader Application

A retrospective is an amazing tool for helping a team bond and continuously improve. Consequently, there is great value in utilising this technique at the end of any activity where you will need to engage in a similar scenario again. For an example of where we have used Retrospectives more broadly, check out this post.

by Aginic