Retrospectives an are important part of effective Agile practice. Many teams who are new to Agile may well have been taught the theory behind retrospectives, but putting them into practice can be an entirely different matter. Successful facilitation of any Agile technique is dependent on a firm foundation of knowledge and coaching. Let's first go over some basics before jumping into fun retrospective games.
A large element of Agile is the focus on continuous improvement. By continually striving to find more efficient and effective ways of working, teams can work at a faster velocity and produce better results. Retrospectives are one tool which support a culture of continuous improvement.
What is a retrospective?
Agile software development projects are timeboxed into sections known as iterations or ‘sprints’. A retrospective is a meeting/huddle or whatever terminology your team prefers to use, held at the end of each sprint or iteration.
The purpose of the retrospective is to give the team an opportunity to reflect on what happened during the sprint and identify any actions for improvement during the next one. The actions that come out of the retrospective are then completed during the next sprint. This makes retrospectives an effective way to make short-cycled improvements.
Who facilitates the retrospective?
Retrospectives are almost always facilitated by the team’s Scrum Master. Some Scrum Master’s feel that this can put them in an awkward position, as they are also a part of the team. However, by remaining impartial and objective, it is entirely possible for the Scrum Master to facilitate and serve the best interests of the team during the retrospective meeting.
How do we know what to discuss? What format should the meeting take?
During your Agile training, you should have been made aware of the various techniques that can be used during the retrospective. These are sometimes referred to as a ‘toolbox of retrospective techniques’. It is the job of the facilitator of the retrospective to pick the most effective technique for
- The team
- The project
The techniques vary quite widely, and so knowledge of each is essential to be able to choose the correct one for each individual retrospective.
Let’s take a quick look at two of the most commonly used retrospective techniques.
One of the easiest ways of assessing the newly-completed sprint is by asking questions to the team, who should feel confident to voice their opinions. Typical questions include:
- What did we do well?
- What should we do differently next time?
- What did we learn?
- What still confuses us and requires more understanding?
- What was the biggest impediment in the sprint?
- What has helped us to be successful as a team?
As well as asking ‘what’, it is also necessary to identify ‘why’.
- Why did the team approach this task in this way?
- Why did this work, or why did it fail?
- Why did this we choose this solution?
The answers to these questions should help teams to be able to fully assess the success of the sprint, and establish what working practises need to change in order to improve.
A strength-based retrospective
A strength-based retrospective focuses on using the strengths that the team already possess to solve the problems encountered during the iteration.
A strength-based retrospective is particularly useful when the impediments identified during the sprint would ordinarily require the team to learn new skills. By establishing how existing skills and knowledge can be used to combat the problem, the team can save valuable time that would have otherwise been spent on training and learning. This can be vital if your team is working on a project that is particularly time-sensitive, such as the race to market.
What happens once actions have been agreed?
Once your team has decided what actions need to be taken to improve the next sprint, these then need to be made visible. The easiest way of doing this is by putting them on the team planning board. User stories can then be used to plan and track bigger improvements.
Is there anything else we need to be aware of when facilitating a retrospective?
Team culture plays a tremendous part of the successful facilitation and outcome of a retrospective. This is because the retrospective will only achieve its purpose – to be a positive and effective event where people learn from one another and find solutions to improve their way of working - if team members are open, honest and respectful. The entire event relies on individuals within the team feeling confident enough to voice their opinion, regardless of what it may be.
To ensure that the retrospective is effective, facilitators should focus on:
- Ensuring that all team members are present at and participate in the meeting
- Establishing an open, honest culture where all team members feel that their viewpoint is valued
- Ensuring that the team establish a shared understanding of how things went during the iteration.
The facilitator should also strive to serve the team rather than lead it based on his or her own opinions of how the previous sprint went.
Now that we're done with the basics, let's jump to some fun games that can help you keep your team engaged and looking forward to participating in the retrospective.
Retrospective games are used as a way to help the team open up and learn from their mistakes. But don't get fooled into thinking all games are alike. Make sure the game you choose has a purpose and goes beyond a theme. Themes are a great way to start, but after a while become boring. Make sure to change up ever so often whatever game or theme you decide to choose.
I have two favorite sources for retrospective games.
With this said, there is only one problem I usually have in using some of these games. Did you guess? Time. Many of these games tend to take longer than what I need. So, I look for games that I can execute within 15 minutes or less to allow for the retrospective to emerge.
If you know your team well you'll know what game is best for your team. If you have a team who haven't worked together and is very new to retrospectives, you may want to start with an ice breaker.
Retrospective games for your teams...
The hero’s journey
is a futurespective activity to help describe a story a team is pursuing. I haven't tried this one, but it sounds fun. If any of you have tried this one let me know.
I found this one a while back on Luis Goncalves' site posted by a guest. I found it was a fun experience for my teams. Lego has their own serious play brand, although pricey it is a great way to teach and help teams open up.
May the force be with you retrospective game
This one is great, but I am biased. I am a big believer in the values teams should uphold (respect, courage, openness, commitment and focus).
The Constellation Game
A great starter or ice breaker for new teams.
With successful facilitation, retrospective games will allow your team to continually improve the way that they work, helping them to stay on task and deliver on time, every time. If you want more ideas, check out "11 Ideas to Spice Your Retrospective"
As always experiment and learn what works best with your teams.
Now it's your turn. What retrospective games do you use?
Get "gelling" for your next retrospective, a fun survival game to get your teams talking. Download it now.