Friday, December 26, 2014

Retrospectives – “Discovering our selves”(Part 1)

A retrospective is a well known practice in many Agile development teams. Its goal is to help the team reflect on the previous working weeks, commonly 2 or 3 weeks with the aim of distinguishing ways of improving the way they work.  Retrospectives are also very important for this agile self-organized teams, because since they don’t receive direct commands from managers(see my previous post), it is of extreme importance to have mechanisms that improve increase awareness and prevent from burning out.

What makes a retrospective  a little bit different from other meetings, is that it often follows an organized protocol for interaction. The retrospective's protocol is defined and applied by one or many persons external to the team, known as the facilitators.  The role of the facilitator, is to, in an impartial way facilitate the teams express their concerns and discover actions that can help them address those concerns.

Each facilitator, has its own technique/s for facilitating retrospectives. Different techniques are useful in different circumstances. That is why one of the first things the facilitator will do in order to prepare a good retrospective, will be to have a brief chat with some representatives from the team, to get some idea/highlights of what was going on lately: current work, most notorious blocker, absences, who will attend the retrospective, important events… 

This first mini reconnaissance mission is not a silver bullet but often, it helps the facilitator get a grasp of what type of retrospective format could be used.  Sometimes retrospectives will have a high level of technicalities, other times there will be lots of complaints about blockers, others there will be communication issues, process, etc…

Without going into an specific retrospective format yet(not in Part 1), I would like to just name a list of healthy tips that is useful to hang somewhere on the room for all to see and/or even say them out loudly(the facilitator can even ask for a volunteer/s to read them out) at the retrospective, just before commencing:

·         Don’t blame. We all have been working to the best of our abilities.
·         Don’t monopolize the conversation, be conscious when you should let others participate.
·         Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking.
·         Don’t be afraid of expressing what you think no matter how bad it is.
·         Don’t feel intimidated by anyone because of their position.
·         Do critic and welcome critics(Blame not equal to critic).
·         Do remember that change is always possible.
·         Do remember that your company will be what you want it to be.

Dialogue it’s a dexterity which is not easy to master. The goal of this tips(note that I didn’t say rules) are to just to encourage a healthier debate. Many times will be the case that people feel: shy, impatient, inferior, superior, lazy, pessimistic, etc …

To help break some of those psychological barriers another duty of the facilitator will be to make sure that the environment where the retrospective will be held is comfortable enough. The environment can significantly impact the results of a retrospective.  But of course, It is up to the creativity of each facilitator, how to do so.  In any case here some more tips:

·         A bit of not loud ambient music at the beginning or even during the hold retrospective, can help stimulate people and also reduce the uncomfortable sensation some people claim to have when the group is in silence.
·         Soft drinks and water could help avoid dry mouths when speaking.
·         Coffee and Tea can help give a boost to people if the retrospective has to be held on the last hours of the day.
·         Alcohol is often discouraged specially if it is expected the retrospective to last too long. Some facilitators don’t have nothing against it if when it is in moderation.
·         Sweet and salty snacks are often found in retrospectives, specially chocolate(Apparently there are scientific research that suggest that it can increase peoples happiness).
·         Fruit, it’s a healthy option that many people often appreciate in retrospectives.  
·         Appropriate jokes and even chit-chat are often common at the beginning of retrospectives, it is perfectly fine if the facilitator engages on himself on them briefly or even initiates them while the retrospective is not jet started or is about to start, as a way of icebreaking.

The facilitator should have at the beginning of the retrospective a list of the members of the team and their role, that are expected to attend the retrospective. The reason for this is that in many occasions there are other people external to the team, that also were invited to the retrospective and to make sure that everybody knows who is in the room it may be nice to just make sure that they briefly introduce themselves to all the team if they haven’t done it yet.

Once the retrospective has started and regardless of the format that the facilitator will decide to use, often there will be a round of what is known as “Temperature Read”.  It is not mandatory thing to do it but it is very common in almost every retrospective.  The goal of temperature reading can be different and it also have an specific format depending on what is that we want to get from the team.  It may go from just a simple icebreaker to a puzzle game where everybody is engaged.
Since this is a topic for itself, in this series of blog posts, I will not go deep into it, but next I will just briefly describe one of those exercises.

For example, It might be of interest of the facilitator to discover how often teams need to do a retrospective. The facilitator, will ask everybody to write a number on a post-it note from 1 to 5 where the smaller the number is, means they consider there is not need to have a retrospective right now, and the greater the number is, it means that they are really eager to have a retrospective right now. After the retrospective the facilitator will count the votes and depending on the predominant result, an action suggesting to change the frequency in which the team has retrospectives can be suggested to the team:

·         1 or 2 can appear if the team has retrospectives too often. Sometimes it becomes like a routine for the team and the quality of the retrospective result is not that good.
·         3 or 4 often indicates that the frequency in which the team has retrospectives is probably appropriate, often nice productive retrospectives with good usage of the time, etc…
·         5 may be a sign of the team needing retrospectives more often. It is common that in retrospectives where the predominant temperature was 5, many topics remain undiscussed due to lack of time.

Of course this previous bullet points were just an example and those patterns not necessarily need to apply and can even be interpreted differently by different people. If it is the desire of the team to research on that topic, they can do it and try to discover when is best for them to have a retrospective.


With this I conclude part 1 on this blog post series on retrospective facilitation.
Stay tuned, in the coming posts I will discuss in depth some of the most powerful retrospective formats(each of them for a different purpose), some of them used in many companies, from small start-ups to huge  mega corporations. Remember that the retrospective is a very helpful  thing for the self-organized team.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share with your friends