Jun 24, 2019 - 3 minute read

Ideas for running Retrospectives

I was asked to record a five minute video about retrospectives, and below is the text I came up with!

The official scrum guide says that “the sprint retrospective is an opportunity for the team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next sprint”. If you’re just starting out with running retrospectives though, beginning your retrospectives with this goal can quickly devolve to finger pointing and complaining. If the tone of the retrospective starts out in this defensive way, it can be hard to get people to be open and honest, especially if they feel like they need to defend themselves. The point of the retrospective is to talk about how the team can work together better, and the only way we can achieve that is if people have the psychological safety to be honest.

So, how do we make people comfortable so that they can share honestly? If there is a feeling of defensiveness on the team, it can be good to start with the Norm Kerth’s prime directive, that “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.” This philosophy takes the pressure off defending yourself, should remove the temptation to blame others, and puts the focus on improving team processes and communication. We can encourage that way of thinking through the phrasing of the questions we ask. Instead of asking questions like, “What went badly?” or “Why did things go so wrong?”, we can ask questions like “What could we have done differently to get a better result?”. While those two questions seem very similar, their focus is not about what the bad event was. Instead, the question focuses on getting the team to think about processes and plans that could have prevented the resulting bad event.

With this idea in mind, we can start our retrospective by writing down some words of appreciation for team members, specifically thanking them for things that happened during the sprint. Next, we can list out the positive results of our sprint, looking for things that the team accomplished or did well. Finally, we look at those ideas, and try to group them together, and talk about why those things went well, and how the team can make those a part of their processes. By talking about the positives and encouraging one another, you’ve influenced and created a safe place to talk about ideas to make the team better.