The agile manifesto proposes that a “team reflects on how to become more effective”. Agile retrospectives can be used to inspect and adapt the way of working in agile projects. Here’s an introduction to agile retrospectives, to help you to get started and do them in your projects.
An agile retrospective, or sprint retrospective as Scrum calls it, is a practice used by teams to reflect on their way of working, and to continuously become better in what they do.
The 12th agile principle states:
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
The whole team attends the retrospective meeting, where they “inspect” how the iteration (sprint) has gone, and decide what and how they want to “adapt” their processes to improve. The actions coming out of a retrospective are communicated and preferably done in the next iteration, which makes retrospectives an effective way to do short cycled improvement and to implement good practices continuously.
The retrospective facilitator (often the scrum master) should have a toolbox of retrospective techniques, and be able to pick the most effective one. Some of the exercises to do in retrospectives are asking questions, state your feelings with 1 word, 5 times why (Root Causes) or asking why, solution focused/strengths and retrospective of retrospectives (there’s a book about Valuable Agile Retrospectives if you want to learn more exercises).
To assure that actions from a retrospective are done, they can be brought into the planning game, and made visible by putting them on the planning board. You can use User stories to plan and track bigger improvements, describing who, what and why. Every retrospective meeting starts by looking at the actions from the previous meeting, to see if they are finished (and to take action if not).
Safety in Retrospectives
It’s crucial to have an open culture in an agile retrospective, where team members speak up. Norm Kerth defined the Prime Directive, it’s purpose is to assure that a retrospective is a positive and effective event where people feel safe:
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
With the Prime Directive, a retrospective becomes a effective team gathering where people learn from each other and find solutions to improve their way of working.
Why Would You Do Retrospectives?
Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. So if you want to solve the problems that you are having, and deliver more value to your customers, you have to change the way you do your work. That is why agile promotes the usage of retrospectives: To help teams to solve problems and improve themselves!
What makes retrospectives different, and what’s the benefit of doing them? One retrospective benefit is that they give power to the team. Since the team members feel empowered, there will be little resistance to do the changes that need to be done.
Another benefit is that the actions that are agreed in a retrospective are done by the team members, there is no hand-over! The team analyses what happened, defines the actions, and team members do them. This is much more effective, and also faster and cheaper :-).
These benefits make retrospectives a better way to do improvements. And they explain why retrospectives are one of the success factors for using scrum and getting benefits. You can use different retrospective techniques to get business value out of retrospectives. And retrospectives are also a great tool to establish and maintain stable teams, and help them to become agile and lean.
How to Start With Retrospectives?
There are different ways to introduce retrospectives. You can train Scrum masters and learn them how to facilitate a retrospective. And then start doing them with your agile teams, and reflect. I started by doing agile retrospectives in “stealth mode” in my projects, not using the term retrospective but just calling its an evaluation. Whatever way you chose, be sure to keep on doing retrospectives. Even if things seem to going well, there are always ways to improve!
Do you want to know more about retrospectives? Luis Gonçalves and I have published the pocket book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. This book will helps you to get benefits out of doing retrospectives. There is also an online Retrospective Exercises Toolbox which you can use to design your own Valuable Agile Retrospectives.
Note: This blog is derived from the post What’s an Agile Retrospective and Why Would You Do It? which has previously been published on BenLinders.com.