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Four Retrospective Techniques - Part I

November 11, 2012

Retrospectives provide opportunities to teams to inspect their process they are current using, and continuously improve it. Good teams leverage the improvement opportunity provided by Retrospectives, improve continuously, and over time turn into great teams.

It is vital that the teams use a good Retrospective technique to help them focus on task at hand. Having various techniques in the toolbox help teams beat monotony. Using the same technique can lead to team members becoming complacent. Fresh flow of improvement ideas tend to dry up. Using various Retrospective techniques help teams focus and keep the improvements ideas flowing.

I’ll cover four Retrospective techniques that I have used over the years. These techniques have served me and the team I’ve worked with rather well.

Techniques we’ll cover are

  1. Basic Retrospective Technique
  2. Starfish Retrospective Technique
  3. Cool Wall Retrospective Technique
  4. Six Thinking Hats Retrospective Technique

In this first part, we’ll focus on first two techniques.

Basic Retrospective Technique

This is rather simple technique, but a very effective one. Give the team members sticky notes in three colours. I use green, red and yellow. You can chose the colours you like. Ask each team members to write their ideas on,

  1. What went well during the Sprint (green stickies)
  2. What didn’t go so well during the Sprint (red stickies)
  3. For each of the items that didn’t go well, what can we do to turn things around (yellow stickies)

Given that the Retrospective is a time-boxed meeting, I normally ask team members to share two or three of each of these ideas, depending on the team size and available time. I give them 10–15 minutes to come up with these ideas and write those down on sticky notes.

Then, I start from one end of the table and ask team members to share one thing they thought went well during the Sprint. In the next round, I ask them to share the second thing they thought went well. This keeps the discussion moving, and keep all team members involved. Then I ask them to share, one by one, one thing that didn’t work well and their idea(s) to turn that around. Everyone is given the opportunity to share their idea and thoughts with the whole team. As the team members describe their ideas, I get the sticky from them and stick them on a well (or whiteboard), grouping similar ideas together.

In a team of seven, your team members come up with several unique improvement ideas. It’s better to focus on a few items in the following Sprint and get those ideas implemented, rather than trying to do all and ending up with nothing.

I ask the team members to vote on the improvement ideas. Everyone gets two votes. They cast their vote by putting a tick mark (or a cross etc.) on the improvement idea (sticky) they would like to implement in the following Sprint. I pick up the top ideas (ones with most votes), depending on how many items team feel they can implement in the following Sprint.

After choosing the ideas, I ask team members to discuss the selected improvement ideas further, and come up with clearly defined action items they would implement in the next Sprint.

Starfish Retrospective Technique

This particular technique helps teams to reflect on varying degrees of ideas and concepts that they want to bring up instead of the black and white categories of what went well and what didn’t work well.

I draw five lines in a starfish pattern on a whiteboard. I label these lines “start”, “stop”, “more of”, “less of”, and “keep doing”. I ask the team members

What can we start doing that will help team become more productive and progress faster? What can we stop doing that is currently hindering our progress? What are the practices, techniques and technologies that we might want to try more of, as we are not taking full advantage of these yet i.e. we can we do more of? What is currently stopping us and hindering our progress i.e. what can we do less of? What are all the good things that we like that we should keep doing?

I ask the team members to come up with ideas, scribble their ideas down on sticky notes and post those on relevant lines. I then discuss the ideas and with the help of the team identify actions for the next Sprint.

In the next part, we’ll discuss cool wall technique and the six thinking hats technique.

Faisal Mahmood is the author of the book Agile Adoption Mistakes You Must Avoid. Faisal is a Certified Professional Scrum Trainer based in London, UK.

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© Faisal Mahmood

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