I’ve been thinking a lot about retrospectives lately both because our team has been struggling with them being ineffective/wasteful and because retrospectives were the subject of conversation at the last DC/NOVA Scrum Users Group meetup.

Our team has been tweaking and experimenting with various modifications to our process but one thing that we’ve left untouched for a year now is our retrospectives.  Every sprint, we ask “What went well?” “What went badly?” and “What can we improve?”  Rarely, though, do we follow through on those items under “What can we improve?”  We’ve tried forcing ourselves to make these items concrete, posting them near our board, bringing them up in the standup meeting, etc. but to no avail.

We’re now experimenting with changing the meeting itself to better foster improvement.  First: we’re going into the meeting with an agenda rather than having it be a free form discussion.  Generally, when we treat it as free form, memories are dull and it is difficult to start a conversation.  We’re hoping that a prepared agenda (to which anyone can contribute) will help grease the skids, so to speak.

Secondly, the “What can we improve?” section will now be more explicitly a “What experiments should we run?” discussion – things like “should we be using Selenium instead of our current solution?” or “what if we only tasked out half of the stories at the beginning of the sprint and left the second half until the middle of the sprint?”

The “What went well?” and “What went badly?” topics, then, can focus not only on unexpected things that came up but also on the results of these process, tooling, and workflow experiments that we’re running.

Hopefully, this will prove to be a true PDCA loop and really drive improvement.  After all, that what retrospectives are supposed to do.

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