What makes a great Agile Retrospective?

I asked the Agile Philippines community through the Agile Philippines Facebook Group on tips for effective and fun retrospectives the Filipino way. These are my key take aways.

1. Great retrospectives are affirmative

  • Facilitators set the tone to make the retrospective a safe environment to constructively discuss improvement areas in the previous sprint
  • Members find retrospectives as the safest avenues where they can share their thoughts, feelings, and observations
  • Facilitators know that people do not intend to work poorly, the aim of the retrospective is to build environment for sustainable operation and growth. It is not a fault-finding nor a blame-throwing event.
  • The teams can have a “round-table of gratitude”, everyone gets to thank someone in front of the team

2. Great retrospectives are celebrations

  • Organizers recognize the people who contributed most for the success of the current sprint by giving out small tokens or rewards (like Golden Duck Awards)
  • The team can celebrate learning through the celebration grid by categorizing learning into 3 buckets: good practices (high probability of success), mistakes (doomed to fail from the beginning but done nonetheless) and experiments (learning is the highest here)
  • The team knows that regardless of what they discover, they 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.

3. Great retrospectives are fun

  • There are at least 32 ways on how to do fun retrospectives. See Fun Retrospective for activities and ideas for making agile retrospectives more engaging

4. Great retrospectives have dynamic facilitators

  • Sometimes the facilitator after reiterating the rules and the games of retrospective, can just go back and see the results – self-organization in action
  • Facilitators do not act like a boss directing the discussion, they act as friends, and colleagues who listen, who understand, recommend and not prescribe.
  • Facilitators have Retrospective Exercise Toolbox. In their book, “Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives: Toolbox for Retrospective Exercises”, Luis Goncalves and Ben Linders detailed out retrospective exercises and when to effectively use them.

5. Great retrospectives are team-builders

  • Retrospectives are team exercises and not for general consumption so as not to hinder with openness and honesty
  • Members should avoid making the retrospectives as gripe/complain sessions, people will get defensive and will hinder effective collaboration.
  • Retrospectives are opportunities to break barriers to effective sharing
  • Retrospectives facilitate self-organization, the team can try to do other methods in the next sprint, they are the ones to correct their own processes. The team takes control of their own Agile improvement JOURNEY. There is a high buy in the improvement effort.

As an end note from the experienced members of the group, we must remember that the purpose of retrospective is to learn from the past to improve the future. There are lots of game play but productivity may get lost in the fun and the games will distract the members from purpose. Great retrospectives are deliberate and intentional.

Thank you Agile Philippines!


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