FASTER! A Guide to Speeding Up Your Next Retrospective

Anthony Mersino
June 11, 2015

Most people are aware of the retrospective meeting that is commonly used with Agile and Scrum teams and comes at the end of each sprint or iteration.  This past week I was coaching a Scrum team and I witnessed one of the fastest retrospectives ever.  The entire meeting lasted 13 minutes and there were 9 participants.  Fast?  Hell yes!  Efficient?  Perhaps.  Effective?  Not even close!

The only thing that would have made the meeting faster was if they had agreed in advance to simply recycle the "what went well" items from the previous sprint and cancel the meeting.  (BTW Another one of my teams did exactly that and I think I was less upset.  At least they weren't faking it.)

I get it - we are all super busy.  Too busy.  We are scurrying around like hyper-caffeinated squirrels, frantically gathering up nuts.  We are continually shifting our focus between all the things we want to get done.  It's a little crazy and not sustainable.  We need things to be FAST, or FASTER.  Forget the 8 minute Abs, we need 7 minute Abs.  Or 1 minute Abs. Three hours for a retrospective???  Crazy - get it done in 30 minutes...or 13.  

Yep, we are all addicted to speed.  And there are things that should be fast like firetrucks, shots of tequila, Jimmy Johns, and Elon Musk's Hyperloop high speed rail.  Other things are better if they are slower and savored, like a nice glass of wine, a sunrise on the beach, or a shoulder rub.  The Scrum Retrospective falls more into this latter category; it need not be fast.

It makes me think that I haven't done a good job as an Agile Coach to help these teams understand the value of the retrospective or even the whole point of the exercise.  It should not be a mindless ceremony that the team does as quickly as possible.  The retrospective is a crticial part of continuous process improvement that has it’s roots in the Deming cycle of PLAN - DO - CHECK - ACT.  Teams that blow through the retrospective are missing out on a key opportunity to celebrate their work, improve their tools and processes, and to recognize and affirm each other.  And I don't want to let that happen.

It wasn't an accident that the founders of Scrum included the retrospective meeting in the sprint.  Though it is the last meeting in a sprint, it wasn't an afterthought and it wasn't simply tacked on to an otherwise complete process.  It is necessary.  It isn't optional, to be done only if time permits.  The Scrum Guide says this about the retrospective:

“The Scrum Master encourages the Scrum Team to improve, within the Scrum process framework, its development process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next Sprint.” 

I love that phrase and the idea of making the team process and practices more “effective and enjoyable”.  To me, that is worth investing some team time to do well.  

Do a quick gut check of your own retrospective process.  If you are on a traditional project, when do you have retrospectives and do they help you to improve?  If you are on an Agile project, do you do a retrospective every iteration?  Are they effective at helping the team to improve? Do you think you are getting the most out of your investment in time and energy?  Are your team processes getting more effective and enjoyable? If not, perhaps you are not doing it correctly.

Over the course of the next several weeks I want to really dig in on the retrospective, and how teams can improve their retrospectives and improve themselves.  I will share my ideas for doing great retrospectives and teaching the team the value of the retrospective.  We can explore ways to get full participation from team members who tend to be more quiet, and harness the energy of those that tend to dominate discussions.  I will also share some techniques I’ve used to move beyond the “what went well” question that gets stale very quickly.  And I will share some resources that Scrum Masters and facilitators can go to for additional information and improvement.  
 
Please share your comments, feedback, tips and best practices.  I am not going to be quick about it, but I hope you will find it effective and enjoyable.

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

Comments

I agree that "speeding up" retros may diminish their impact, and silently send the signal that this is not a key practice as well. Whenever well-meaning folks say "well, we can save some time on retro by --" I ask why they feel they can't spare the time to improve. The answers themselves can be very enlightening retrospective topics. Great article, Anthony.