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How to inspire the team with a fun and useful retrospective?

Retrospectives should be one of the most important events for Agile teams. Yet, very often they turn into routine and boring meetings, endless discussions with no clear outcome, or are even skipped. We’ve been struggling with this a lot ourselves, and we have come up with some ideas that – in case you are in a similar situation, might help you inspire this meeting again and make it interesting and beneficial for the team.

First, why are retrospectives important?

As we all know, empirical processes, such as Scrum, rely heavily on learning from experiments and experience. Hence, doing regular inspection and adaption of how we work as a team is essential to a healthy and efficient process.

Retrospectives are actually a structured approach to analyze our current practices, reflect on the overall Sprint and how we work together, and come to decisions on how we can improve. Furthermore, they are a good opportunity to celebrate what we have done well, which is also important for establishing sustainable practices and high-performing teams.

What is a typical flow of a retrospective meeting?

The retrospective meeting is a structured event, and it follows a certain flow, so that we can arrive at the final goal – analyzed observations with specific decisions for improvement. The meeting facilitator typically goes through specific step sequence.

Retrospective meeting flow in 8 steps

The retrospective meeting flow

  • Preparation: Before every retrospective meeting the facilitator need to select the best set of methods depending on the current phase or situation in the team.
  • Creating trustful environment: In the beginning of every retrospective meeting it is essential to reinforce trust among the team members and create good atmosphere. Avoid finger pointing and blame. Remind to focus on process improvement!
  • Check previous decisions: To create continuity of process improvement the team should revisit their previous decisions and agreements and decide which to keep.
  • Collect data: Every team member contributes information and learning from the daily work and challenges. Create a shared understanding of what happened during the last iteration. The quality of data is the basis for further improvements.
  • Focus: Since time is never enough, the team should select to work on areas for improvements that will have the most significant and long-term impact to help the be better in the future.
  • Analysis: The team should pinpoint the exact problem, find the root cause and brainstorm for possible solutions.
  • Decisions: The team should agree on actions to be taken in order to approach to solve the problem and metrics to identify whether solutions are really effective.
  • Closing: Take few moments for appreciation and evaluation of the quality of the retrospective meeting.

Facilitators, get ready for the retrospective!

4 retrospective cards

How do you come up with interesting and new ideas for each retrospective, so that you can keep the team engaged?

Well, we created the Retrospective Cards to help you in this quest over and over again. Let’s see how we use them.

Step 1: Think about the focus of the upcoming retrospective. Is it a standard event, or does the team need to follow up on a specific problem/learning they have discovered? Or maybe everything goes smoothly and you want to focus on keeping the good practices of the team and celebrate success?

Step 2: Look at the retrospective flow, and for each step, pick one or more cards with tools and techniques that fit the specific outcome you want to achieve.

Hint: On each card, you will find an indication of the step it belongs to (e.g. Preparation, Create Trustful Environment, and so on; the approximate time you need and tips how to do it).

Step 3: Read carefully the instructions. Note that you might need to prepare some materials in advance (e.g. voting dots, sticky notes, markers, etc.).

Step 4: Go and have an awesome retrospective!

Example retrospective

Here is an example for a 1.5-hour retrospective* we recently designed using the ideas from the cards. The team’s context was that they had failed to finish their planned work for 3 iterations in a row, so we had to dig into the problem and look for ways to address it.

  • Retrospective Card: The Prime Detective

    Creating trustful environment: 5 min

    As the context is sensitive, we remind the team of the Prime Directive to set the good tone.

  • Retrospective Card: Keep It Or Forget It

    Check previous decisions: 15 min

    They have already tried to address the problem, so we check what they already tried, and the results of it.

  • Retrospectiv Card: Speed Boat

    Collect data: 15 min

    The Speed Boat metaphor reiterates team’s common purpose and helps team members collaborate.

  • Retrospective Card: Clustering and Prioritizing with Dots

    Focus: 15 min

    Voting with dots is an easy and quick way to find what is the most important focus for the team at present.

  • Retrospectiv Card: 5 WHYs

    Analysis: 15 min

    We need to dig deeper as the issue is reoccurring, and obvious answers are not enough.
    (it can be done in subteams)

  • Retrospectiv Card: Smart Goals

    Decisions: 15 min

    As facilitators, we help the team formulate specific and measurable outcomes, so that they can track the effect.

  • Retrospectiv Card: Appreciations

    Closing: 5 min

    Finally, we close with a round of appreciation to boost team motivation.

*5 min buffer planned, if needed can be used as small break between Focus and Analyze phase, or to accommodate some more discussions in a topic

This is just one example of a retrospective designed to guide the team through a relatively tough and conflict-laden context by focusing them on the goals of the meeting, and allowing them to express their thoughts in a respectful and constructive way.

What tools and techniques work best in your teams? Share with us and the community in a comment.

4 retrospective cards

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The set of 34 unique Retrospective cards that introduce and explain how to structure an awesome retrospective and choose the best method in each step.

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