A retrospective is one of the most important meetings in Agile – it’s the key to continual improvement in how your team operates.   But it’s easy to fall into the trap of dull retrospectives where little is accomplished and everyone is just hoping to move on to the more “practical” stuff.    Here are a few thoughts on how to get your retrospective ship out of the doldrums and back on track.

The ScrumMaster (or XP Coach) has a key role in keeping the retrospective relevant and productive.  There are some basics that must be kept in mind:

  •         Make sure that all team members are present, engaged, and contributing
  •         Make sure the environment is “safe” for contributions
  •         Focus on actionable improvements
  •         Allocate an appropriate amount of time and stick to it  (time boxing)

But it takes more than this to keep retrospectives interesting!    One suggestion is to mix it up and use a variety of different retrospective techniques to keep things fresh.   There are a lot of good books and websites with tips and techniques (we’ll provide some links below).  Try mixing up conversational techniques with silent methods such as providing written input on a wall.   Often you’ll find that these alternative approaches bring out valuable input from people who are not as forthcoming in verbal exchanges.

Once you generate the ideas, you still need to facilitate a discussion on what improvements the team wants to focus on.   You need to the keep the number small and achievable – usually only 1 or 2 items for your next sprint.   And be sure you put it on the backlog!  You need to treat these improvements as key nonfunctional requirements and track them like anything else.   Once you show that you’re serious about making improvements, people will begin to see that the retrospectives are worth their time and you can turn them in to the energizing engagements that they should be.

In a few cases, retrospective “malaise” may be a sign of more significant dysfunctions in a team.  In that case, it may be time to seek outside perspective and assistance.   Feel free to contact us if you have any specific questions or could use some help with your particular situation.

Some Recommended Retrospective links:

Agile Retrospective Wiki

Goal Driven Retrospectives

Seven Ways to Revitalize your Retrospectives

Retrospective Check-in Exercise