It had been a while since I last facilitated a retrospective. So, I wanted to make sure that I can deliver and prepared properly. I had a few ideas of my own and few based on short discussions I had had what the retrospective should address.

The scope was quite large so I couldn’t use any specific way of gathering information and insights. I had to allow room for a very wide variety of topics.

Without further ado here is the skeleton I used for the retrospective.

  1. Get a mood reading (max 5min)
  2. Gather insights (max 10min)
  3. Decide what to do (max 35min)
  4. Form an improvement backlog (max 5min)
  5. End with a different goal in mind (max 5min)

Getting a mood reading

I wanted to know and I wanted the participants to know what are the prejudices we are working with. I used the EVSP (Explorer-Shopper-Vacationer-Prisoner) as the ice breaker. With a closed vote everyone wrote down a single letter defining their current attitude towards retrospectives at the moment. Here are the results:

ESVP results

Getting something to chew on

Then it was time to move forward and start to gather information to support our aims. Due to the amount of issues known in advance I decided to include last two sprints (we have 2 week sprints) in our time-line exercise. I had two different coloured sticky notes: green ones to signify memorable events and yellow ones to signify meaningful events. Time-line itself was very simple with only two dimensions: time and impact. Time runs from left to right and impact from top to bottom. The higher the note was placed the better the event was and the lower it was placed the worse the event was.

In small groups, 2 or 3 persons, people started and recalled the most important moments and placed them properly on the whiteboard with respect to both the time axis and the Good-Bad axis.

Timeline of 2 last sprintsNow we had something real and concrete to work with.

Morphing events into concrete form

After we had looked into our near past it was time to turn the history into actionable issues. I had prepared one whiteboard with three columns: Stop Doing, Start doing and Keep Doing. I told the team to use the info we just had gathered and by themselves write sticky notes containing issues that mattered to them. I instructed them to keep the notes secret until placed on the whiteboard. The notes were placed one at a time so that we could discuss each and every note immediately.

Ta-daa! We had concrete issues we could address! Next I lead the team to find themes within the notes. You can see the notes that address the same issue connected on the image. This proved to be extremely fruitful and good discussion and analysis followed.Start doing, stop doing, keep doing!

Then it was time to create our improvement backlog. I gave the team 5 minutes to create actions based on the discussions and notes on the three columns.

If you look closely, on the right corner of the image you can see a bunch of red notes. Those notes are the actions that the team found. They are prioritized based on importance and effort required. Effort is significant here, very often the actions are such that the team can not accomplish them alone. Thus, it is very important to have actions that can be implemented immediately.

Ending the show

We had found really good candidates for the team to improve on and it was time to move on. We’ve had all kinds of retrospectives from good to bad to boring so it was appropriate to give the team a possibility to improve on the retrospectives. So, the last item was retrospective process improvement, what is good and what needs to be changed.

Retrospecetive process improvement

Got some very good feedback, ideas and improvement suggestions :)

Required ingredients?

  1. Preparations in advance
  2. Storyline sketched
  3. Neutral facilitator
  4. Fearless people

I had prepared the team room in advance, 2 whiteboards and 2 large paper sheets, enough sticky notes and pens/markers. Timer for timekeeping and enforcing time-boxes. Healthy attitude so that I could leave myself out of the retrospective even though I am a team member. Gentle guidance to allow everyone the chance to speak up.

I was pleasantly surprised how well this went and I want to thank my team for excellent attitude and a sincere desire to improve and discuss even the most difficult subjects. There’s definitely improvement ahead!

None of this would have been possible without the help of the excellent book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. I recommend it for everyone interested in retrospectives.

Post filed under Agile, People, Retrospectives.

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