Harnessing the power of Retrospection

Root Cause Analysis
June 18, 2018
Darker side of CI/CD
June 21, 2018

Harnessing the power of Retrospection

Harnessing the power of Retrospection

“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience”. — John Dewey

Retrospectives can make your organization faster, more efficient and innovative
What are Retrospectives All About?

“How can we work together to improve now, so our next project is demonstrably better?”
Team members come together, each with their own perspective and insights, to understand one another’s view of the project and identify improvement actions. It’s not a session to create an explanation for management about a project failure – that would be a typical project post mortem. Nor is a retrospective merely completing a questionnaire so some project manager can figure out how to run the next project – that would be a typical lessons learned activity. It’s not a complaint or blaming session either.

The goal of a retrospective is to improve team performance on the project. The retrospective is a constructive glance at the recent past to enable a better future.

Feedback loops are created when reactions affect themselves and can be positive or negative. Feedback loops are cause-and-effect processes within organisms and systems. The concept of feedback loops has been around since the 18th century, but the actual term “feedback” wasn’t used until later. Feedback loops allow organisms and systems to maintain control of important processes by signaling back whether an input should be intensified or stopped.


Conducting the perfect Retrospective?

While the project or sprint is nearing to its completion and we’re looking forward to have first retrospective. Prior to this retrospective, we’ve to ensure that everyone understands the method, we’ve to create a standard agenda (resulting from discussions with team members) and publish it in advance, and the team has been trained in the soft skills needed for such an activity.

Retrospectives might appear to be simple, even trivial, to understand, allowing project teams to easily under-estimate the participation and discipline that is required in conducting a successful retrospective.


Preparing for Meeting:

  • Who should attend?
  • Duration of the meeting?
  • Agenda to be published
  • Pre-meeting inputs
  • Project performance data points


Conduting Retrsopective meeting:
1. Set the stage: (Spend 5 mins)

Welcome everyone to the retrospective meeting and establish the rules of engagement:

  • Embrace a positive spirit of continuous improvement and share whatever you think will help the team improve
  • Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally
  • Listen with an open mind, and remember that everyone’s experience is valid (even those you don’t share)
  • Set the boundary of your discussion
  • Encourage the team to embrace an improvement mindset, away from blame.

2. What went well? (10 min)

Start the session on a positive note. Discuss what went well, use green sticky notes to write down what they feel went well (one idea per sticky).
3. Next step – What didn’t go well? (10 min)

Having identified what didn’t go so well, what concrete actions can the team take to improve those things? make use of Blue sticky notes to place ideas on the board.
4. What needs improvement? (30 min)

Same structure as above, but using pink or red stickies. Remind your team that this is about actions and outcomes – not about specific people.

4LS model (10 mins)

Replace the “what worked well” and “what didn’t work well” activities with a four-part format:

  • What did you like?
  • What was lacking?
  • What did you learn?
  • What do you long for going forward?

Finally Acknowledgement (5 mins)

Take a few minutes to let team members acknowledge each other’s accomplishments since the last retrospective and/or express thanks for having received help from a teammate. Keep it brief, and keep it genuine.
“Have seen values in release and project retrospectives if you have been doing ongoing team retrospectives.”

Lessons-learned and project retrospectives can be quite similar in concept, both considering a project after it is over (complete, cancelled, or shelved).


The Retrospective Prime Directive:

“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.” — Norm Kerth

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