Follow-up to the Retrospectives Workshop

My co-facilitator Suzy wrote up her reflections from the AgileAustin retrospectives workshop, where she shares more of the great insights that came from the participants.

Retrospectives: Collaborative Improvement

Suzy Bates and I facilitated an AgileAustin workshop this morning called "Cheaper Than an Off-Site: How to hold effective retrospectives that improve team collaboration and performance." It was absolutely a blast, from planning through delivery. A benefit I didn't anticipate (but should have) is that I learned a lot, myself. I'll share some of those epiphanies here.

If you were to ask me what one thing a team could do to improve its delivery of great software on a predictable schedule, I would say: hold effective retrospectives. A retrospective is a regularly recurring discussion where the team reflects on how they work together, and what they will change in order to get better. The end of a sprint, right after the demo, is a good time for this.

We presented the following as the key ideas:
  1. Safety
  2. Diversity of viewpoints
  3. Collective ownership
  4. Structured discussion

Being a facilitator for the workshop was a bunch of fun. Collaborating with Suzy was excellent—meshing our two approaches really enhanced the content, as I brought the philosophy and she brought the practical hands-on exercises, and we kept each other moving and making progress on our preparations. If you're tempted to lead a workshop but daunted, find a teammate.

The audience participation was even richer than I'd hoped. People enthusiastically contributed, leapt into the exercises with gusto, and shared some striking insights. I learned neat stuff. Here are some highlights:
  • Rotate who holds the role of retrospective leader (or sponsor). That brings fresh ideas and spreads the sense of shared ownership.

  • When a team member expresses dissatisfaction (for example, through a team satisfaction histogram), sometimes it is appropriate to acknowledge it without delving into why and root cause and solutions. If team safety means I can say how I feel and that's okay, then I should be able to say how I feel without getting interrogated about why I feel that way.

  • A bunch of "went well" items without any "needs fixing" items might indicate a lack of team safety. In today's exercise, our sprint teams barely knew each other, so they wanted to be polite, and so they were very positive in their reflections. When you're comfortable with your team and trust them, it becomes easier to talk about areas for improvement. I'd view a series of "everything was great" sessions as indicative of a lurking problem.

  • Affirmative Inquiry is a philosophy/strategy worth looking into. It replaces, for example, the negative "why is this broken" by changing it into a positive "what was successful in the past that we could apply here."

  • Book recommendation for Jim Highsmith's work (probably Agile Project Management?).

If you attended the workshop: Thanks! It rocked. If you weren't able to, keep an eye out for future AgileAustin workshops. They're announced on the AgileAustin email list, so sign up for that. If you don't live in Austin, well... nanny nanny boo boo.