Join Doug Rose for an in-depth discussion in this video Five phases of retrospectives, part of Agile at Work: Getting Better with Agile Retrospectives.
- A retrospective meeting is not an informal gathering. It should be well run, very structured. That's why many teams have a dedicated facilitator. A facilitator is usually someone outside the team. It may be an agile coach or someone who specializes in retrospectives. One book used by many facilitators is, "Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great." In this book, they outline a simple framework for organizing your retrospectives. They break the retrospective down into five phases. These phases are the start, data gathering, insights, decisions, and closing phase.
The start phase is all about creating structure and safety. It's important to have the team feel comfortable. At the same time, you'll want the team to feel they're doing something new and different. Some facilitators start this meeting by asking everyone to write down what they hope to get from this retrospective. Each person will post this on a post-it note. Then they'll gather up the notes before anyone goes any further. After the retrospective, they'll read the notes out loud. Then they'll ask if the retrospective met their expectations.
The second phase is the data gathering. Here the facilitator usually draws a chart to establish the agenda. Some of the most commonly-used charts are the Starfish diagram or the PANCAKE agenda. This is a list organized by each letter in PANCAKE. This phase is all about extracting information from the team. It's very common for each person to have a stack of post-it notes. They'll come up with notes and action items to put on the chart in front of the room. The facilitator will often use different practices to inspire the team to create this information.
Then they can try to ask the team good questions. They can also use a common link technique, such as the five Ys. Once they've identified these issues, the facilitator will push them to come up with SMART goals. These are the goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-boxed. One of the key challenges with data gathering is making sure that everyone has a shared understanding of what happened. When something happens, everyone usually has a different version of the same event.
Everyone has their own memory of what happened. You'll see this when people recall events on news shows or in the courtroom. Everyone will have a perspective on what they saw. The facilitator will want to take each of these memories and create a shared understanding. Only with this shared understanding can the team move into the next phase. The third phase is all about generating insights. This is one of the most important parts of the retrospective. The team isn't there to celebrate or complain; it's about making the team better.
The best way to make the team better is through real learning. A good facilitator will point to the charts and ask the team, "What are the patterns you see?" The key is to push the team to understand their challenges as a whole. Some teams think if they only fix a few problems, they would be more productive. In reality, many teams struggle for a variety of reasons. It's like a machine that has many rusty parts and you have to decide which are the easiest to fix. It's important for the whole team to focus on the process.
They shouldn't blame any one individual. If you want to fix the machine, you don't blame any one part for being rusty. Instead, you need to focus on why that part became rusty. The same is true with an agile retrospective. Focus on the process and not the individual. The fourth phase is about having the team make decisions. The best way they do that is by creating very clear action items. The team needs to break their challenges down into action items and then spell out how to fix the process.
Each team member volunteers to accept at least one action item. The facilitator should point out any action items that are unaddressed. Be sure to spread the effort out equally among the team. Finally, the team should close off the retrospective. The facilitator should ask whether or not the retrospective met everyone's expectations. If there were problems, then it's the facilitator's responsibility to write notes and apply the changes to the next meeting. If you're the facilitator, try to make sure that everyone feels positive and that the retrospective was productive.
How you close out the retrospective will have a big impact on how the next one begins.
Watch and learn agile project management techniques to assess your project today, and get back on track for tomorrow. Find more courses on agile project management in the Agile at Work series on Doug's author page.
- Five phases of retrospectives
- Choosing an ideal meeting space
- Identifying issues and improvements
- Working with a distributed team
- Encouraging discussions
- Setting goals using SMART criteria
- Asking good questions
- Making team decisions
- Closing out an agile retrospective