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Creative ways to run a retrospective differently 


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WHAT IS A RETROSPECTIVE?

First up – for those for whom Agile Methodology is a somewhat new way of working – a retrospective is one of the ceremonies in Agile.  (watch our team discussing ceremonies here – 3 min watch).

Retrospectives in Agile methodology are done regularly and kept short.  For example they can happen at the end of a two week sprint.   The project is still underway and it allows you to regularly address issues or challenges to keep everything on track.

In a retrospective you discuss what went well, and what needs improvement and create actionable items for the next sprint.

(This is as opposed to old-school – end of project post-mortems or lessons learned when it’s too late to pivot quickly to course correct. )

It’s important when running retrospectives that teams feel safe.   Ewelina Winska from our Polish office explains “Find a place where your team will feel secured and where they will feel creative. When you work with your team on a daily basis you best know the problems they are facing. “

WHY CHANGE THINGS UP?

Sometimes when doing retrospectives so often – you need to freshen them up and get creative.  This allows team members to re-engage with the project. It can also help looking at issues through a different lens.   It can help eliminate unconscious bias.

Sometimes you have a sprint which is emotionally exhausting. You feel you have given you best ideas, been most considerate of others and reflected continuously. The last thing you feel like is another workshop to cover what we feel we already have!  So, it’s important keep the retrospectives fresh and creative.

PROJECT VS TEAM ITERATION

As a team iterates over the building of a product or service, over several sprints, they should also iterate over their process of working together as a team.

Retrospectives with a high degree of safety allow for quick improvements from sprint to sprint. Over time though, the same retrospective questions can result in the same stale answers, plateauing progress.

As a team matures, introducing them to varied and more complex formats encourage the team to think from different angles and continuously improve.

CREATIVE WAYS TO RUN A RETRO DIFFERENTLY

1.     GO OUTSIDE THE OFFICE

It may seem obvious, but getting away from the usual meeting room, can open up the brain to new ideas.   You are outside, being stimulated by different elements.  Benny Ko, from our Melbourne offices says it “can give the team a more relaxed environment for honest conversations”.

  • Walk and Talk – have the team walk through a park for the entire meeting with someone taking notes.
  • Coffee shop – set up your mobile retrospective over lunch or coffee
  • Visit a partner/shared working space alternative office the team may never have visited.

As one of our team in Poland, Ewelina Winska says “I admit that the best Retrospective I ever held was the one at a riverbank.”

2.     HAPPY GARDENING

It helps to identify interests that particular group members may have.  For example in this case below – a team member was passionate about gardening.  It opened up a creative way to set up the retro.  Ensure there are props used (get a shear, seeds, and watering – it will assist in better recall and identification) – Thanks to Caitilin in our Sydney office for this example.

Garden’s Retro – Using props will help this retro stick.

PRUNE, SOW and NOURISH

  • Prune – What will we cut back on now for future growth
  • Sow – What shall we plant for future sprints
  • Nourish – What do we need to do more of immediately (what do we water for immediate effect for the next sprint)

3.     SELF-CARE RETROSPECTIVE

Steve Walton is our project lead from Melbourne.  Steve developed a”self-care retro” for a Friday afternoon on a client where were we almost too drained to talk and the idea of another post-it would have made us cry!   Here is his ‘self-care retro.

Self-care Retro steps
  1. Everyone lays on the ground with something under their head (is great if people happen to have a coat to lay on, and pull over to put under their head). Those uncomfortable with laying on the ground should sit in a comfortable seat.
  2. Ask people to close their eyes, perhaps dim the lights and put on some relaxation/meditation music in the background.
  3. Guide people to think about how they feel now, at the end of this most recent sprint. Ask them to share with one word. It doesn’t matter if people use a few words, the idea is to get the team to understand the range of their emotions at that moment.
  4. Give a few more moments of silence and then ask, how do people want to feel at the end of the next sprint.
  5. Ask people to identify one thing they can do individually to feel how they want by the end of next sprint.
  6. Thank people for being open and courageous and reaffirm that it has been a big sprint, it is normal to have mixed feelings and encourage people to check in with each over the next few days.

4.     WOW & BOO

Ashwini Patil from our Singapore office has been experimenting with ‘draw and express’.  She says it has been a really fun stress buster for the team and quite successful for her as a coach. So much so she has started to adopt it for all he collocated teams and workshops.

It’s based on the same traditional principle of retrospective just that a few words have changed and instead of writing, she has adopted drawing as a way of expression.

  1. You do this by using the 3×5 or 4×6 long sticky notes
  2. The teams are provided with markers and stickies and 2mins silent thinking time on what was “Wow” (What went well) and what was “Boo” (What didn’t go well) for the Sprint.
  3. The team then spends 3mins of time using the stickies to draw these Wow and Boo items on their list using no words whatsoever.
  4. The facilitator then comprehends and reads them out loud or let the team member describe their drawings.
  5. Finally, the team agrees upon what “Boo” items we want to move to “Wow” list and takes ownership of them. The only challenge of this technique is it’s hard to implement with distributed teams but a tool like MIRO can be explored to try this one out.

USE DIFFERENT TOOLS

 

Finally – here are few extra tools you can consider using to assist you changing the style of your Retrospective.   We aren’t affiliated with any of the below companies – we just like to share ?

As we said earlier, fatigue can set in with teams over several sprints.  So introducing teams to varied and more complex formats encourage the team to think from different angles and continuously improve.   Here are a couple of ways to help that.

TEAM RETRO
This company here provides a tool to keep the team’s health, in check! https://www.teamretro.com/health-checks/
FUN RETROSPECTIVES
Malar Singaram from our Singapore office provides likes and uses these two ways to improve retrospectives when this happens..

The 3 Ls: Liked, Learned, Lacked, and

Anchors and Engine (What is slowing us down? What are the things that push us forward?) source: http://www.funretrospectives.com/anchors-and-engine/

TASTY CUPCAKES
Ewelina Winska will sometimes use Tasty Cupcakes (the resource, not the food – although that would be good too!).  It’s a good resource for games and techniques you try.
WORD CLOUDS

One useful tool to use if there is great discussion which needs focus – is to use a word cloud tool.   One that we have used is Mentimeter which allows teams to submit responses anonymously through their mobiles, (great for remote teams).

Shilen Modi from our Sydney team says “A question that I quite like (although I haven’t actually done this before) is ‘describe how your team is going in one word’ Menti creates a word cloud showing all of the responses.

ONLINE COLLABORATION TOOLS

Like Mentimeter, there are other online tools which can be especially useful for geographically distributed teams.  Something like Fun Retro (https://funretro.io/).  We use it by designing the columns, get the team to submit their retro feedback, vote on ideas and then move the priority cards to the top of the column.

Tools like this saves paper waste and saves time in converting post its to a document.

 


The editor would like to thank the following ADAPTOVATORS for their contributions to this article:

Benny Ko
Shilen Modi
Ashwini Patil
Malar Singaram
Caitilin Studdert
Steve Walton
Rachna Verma
Ewelina Winska

 

 

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