Code And Cocktails

Is Your Retro Done?

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(Cross posted to the Cyrus Innovation Blog)

Retrospective meetings are an important part of any sort of “Agile” process. I have a rule about when a retrospective meeting is over.

  1. Everyone that wants to talk has talked.
  2. There is at least one action item.
  3. There is at least one volunteer for each action item.

A good retrospective meetings can help a team achieve what they need and want. Often, however, these meetings tend toward directionless discussion and complaining. While sometimes a ‘complaining’ retrospective can be good and cathartic, these should not be the usual meeting.

Recently a client’s retrospective meetings had fallen by the wayside. Even when they had them they were mostly at the complaining end of the spectrum. We had helped them get back into regular retrospectives, weekly actually, but they were still not very good.

At the end of one retrospective the team member playing the facilitator role tried to wrap the long ramble up by asking “Retro Complete?”. I cut off the murmured agreements with another question: “Do we have some action items?”.

A retrospective meeting should result in action items. These might be a new story/ticket/card, a task, a new process, or an experiment to try. Without these the meeting was just discussion.

Also important is that the action items have volunteers. If no one wants to do or ‘champion’ an action item then find out why. Perhaps the action item just isn’t that important to the team; then drop it. Perhaps it is too big and amorphous; then break it down to a single next action. Or perhaps it is scary; if this is the case then this scariness is something for more discussion.

In the end the team discussed what actions to take on the topics they had discussed and created a short list. They even had volunteer for at least one. Still not the most successful retrospective, but better than the last. Hopefully they’ll keep this habit and their retros will become even more effective.