The reason you hate retrospective meeting is that you’re doing it wrong

Retrospective is coming

Retrospective meetings are important — I am sure you’ve heard it here and there many times. So I assume you know it already, therefore I skip this introduction. What I also assume is that you are holding retrospective meetings on the regular basis.

But are you doing retrospective right?
Is your team getting better/stronger/more motivated?
How do you know that?

There is a good chance that you don’t. And here are the most common reasons.

  • You don’t create actionable items
  • You don’t prioritise them
  • You don’t assign responsible people
  • You don’t follow up

Without everything mentioned above any retrospective meeting looks more like a club of anonymous complainers — everyone shares what he bears in mind, then he feels immediate relief, and therefore thinks that the goal of the meeting is fulfilled.

Relieved, one goes back to his duties.

But this is wrong. Do not fall into that psychological trap of instant gratification! Think long-term!

You may need to convince your managers that this [retrospective] is a good use of your time and company dollars. A growing body of financial and empirical data shows that consistent retrospectives result in real savings and improvements.

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (Affiliate book)

There is no point in the retrospective meetings if you don’t follow up on the results afterwards. And in order to be able to follow up on the retrospective outcome, it should have an actionable format. It means, that every complain should be documented in a format of “What/Why” and “How to improve”. Without asking those questions it is impossible to know later whether the problem is solved.

The main goal for a scrummaster during the retrospective meeting is to become a sort of “customer service” for his team. Make the meeting interactive. Ask teammates, let them speak, listen and summarise their pain points. Define the problems. Create action plan. Make it visible. Make it feasible. Make sure it is executable.

So, how to make sure that the retrospective meeting is held correctly?

Moderate your retrospective meeting

Please keep in mind that sometimes you have to “pull” the problem out of people’s minds. It is important to explain to your teammates the advantage of being honest and transparent.

On the other hand, too much transparency can lead to hot discussions during the meeting. This is not a bad thing, because in such discussions a solution is born. But it is important to moderate them. Act like a judge. Do not let your people lose the objectivity of thinking.

Group and format the complains

Once all complains are documented, you need to group them. Quite often there will be repetitive problems, so you have to categorise them and group together.

Make sure all issues are described in the actionable format. Simply write down the answer on this question: “How can we fix this?”. I also suggest you read this article about retrospectives by Jeremy Jarell — it might give you some fresh ideas about your technique.

It will help us to be better prepared for the next step.

Prioritise the problems

After the complains are grouped, it is time to prioritise them. The best strategy is to give every participant limited amount of “upvotes” which he could spend on any issue. This limitation actually makes people think better how to spend their votes.

After the voting round you will see a clear picture of which actions should be taken immediately.

Assign responsibilities and act

Let me reiterate — the most common problem in the retrospective meetings is that once the problems are documented, they are dumped into the abyss. Your goal is to avoid that by all means.

Luckily, this is easy to fix — just assign responsible people. Simple task tracker like JIRA or Trello could help a lot here.

Follow up

And, the most important, present the results during the next retrospective. The feeling of seeing things improved will break the ice for some teammates who were hesitant to speak before or who just were too skeptical about the whole thing in general.

Apply those retrospective tips now

Just apply those 5 simple steps starting from your next retrospective meeting. You’ll see the immediate improvements for the next iteration, I can guarantee that. If it doesn’t work — please leave a comment or drop me an email.

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