I have to thank Diana Larsen for bringing the subject of Retrospectives up. I am very interested in them, but have little experience outside the usual Scrum retrospectives so I was very happy that someone of the caliber of Diana was willing to share her experience.
Many things to take away here, all coming directly from Diana’s mouth.
First, an aphorism: “if you’re not doing Retrospectives, you are not applying Agile” — says someone from Agile 2005. So true and so ignored!
To learn and grow, you need action AND reflection. Either one of them is NOT enough.
Q: How long should the retrospectives last? (that was from me)
A: For a week-long iteration, at least 1h15m. For a month-long iteration, 2h30m to a 1/2 day. For a 6-month release, around 2 days.
Setting the stage: you need to make people feel comfortable. One trick is to make each of them speak, usually about a non-controversial subject (who they are, how their day went, what they want to take away from the retrospective).
Gather Data: you want to find experiences, feelings, facts. The idea is to make people brainstorm, find items.
Generate insights: make people arrange the items on a timeline, a mindmap or with hexagonal cards. This usually helps finding connections between items and organizing them.
Decide what to do: split people in small groups to find actions. These actions must be clearly labeled experiments: they will be reviewed on the next retrospective. It must be a short list. 2 or 3 items!
Close Retrospective: review what was done, thank people (it is a wearing exercise).
One important thing is to devise a goal for the Retrospective. Make it different every time; otherwise, it gets boring!
During one Retrospective, it was found that some people were blaming Scrum. So the facilitator asked them to list all issues and then to attach a C (“caused by”), V (“made visible by”) and N (“not related to”). It then occurred to the participants that Scrum was not the problem, after all…
Diana recommended joining the Retrospective mailing list at YahooGroups. Apparently, it is low-traffic (~20 mails a month) but still interesting.
Retrospective on Retrospective: one of the tricks that Diana uses is to provide a board with 3 H-zones for “what Helped me”, “what Hindered me” and “what Hypothesis I can make for the future Retrospective”. People are free to fill that up during the Retrospective or later, anonymously. This is later used by the facilitator to enhance the next meeting.