Monday, December 14, 2015

How fancy does a Retrospective need to be?

Especially new Scrum Masters might feel compelled to conduct a firework of Special Effects in order to conduct a Retrospective.
Fancy charts, stand-up exercises and highly facilitated techniques abound: An entire website dedicated to methods for facilitating Retrospective invites experimentation.

But how much glitter and glamour does a Retrospective need?

The Pattern: Funnel results

The general approach, as you can also find in the book "Agile Retrospectives", is a five-step approach to create clear results.
1) Set the stage
2) Gather data
3) Generate insight
4) Decide what to do
5) Close the Retro

That's good. But how formal does it need to be?

The Antipattern: Focus on effect, not content

Maybe you feel tempted or compelled to have a clear method for each of these steps, and want to use memorable patterns to guide the team. Here on this link is what the worst nightmare of an antipattern might look like:

Start out with an exercise with a prepared flip chart, continue with another flip chart, go on with another flip chart, proceed with yet more flip charts and conclude with - guess what - another flip chart!
You can now make this completely awkward for everyone by setting up flips with fancy pictures ("visualization") and asking the participants to write post-it's and put them on the appropriate sections of the chart.

Everyone will remember this Retro for certain - but not positively.

Who needs special effects?

Ask yourself one question: "Why would the team want a Special Effect in the Retrospective?" - if you can not answer the question adequately, any effect you are using is most likely waste.

However, if you find many compelling reasons for why the team can not have a good Retrospective without fancy effects, you should lay them out to the team.  Gather feedback to understand if your reasoning is actually just your opinion, or agreed fact within the team.

Hold a Meta-Loop Retrospective

If the team considers retrospectives stale, consider a Meta-Loop Retrospective: "What do you think about our Retros? How can we improve them?"
Maybe the points revealed would go in the direction of "Make more change happen", or "Reduce time investment", or "Better follow-up". Rarely do the points go in the direction of "Fancier effects, please."
Act on the Meta-Loop Retro before planning new effects. Only plan effects that match improvement potential suggested by the team.

Mind your audience

Regardless of what method you use for your Retrospective, please remember whom the Retrospective is for: It is the team.

Usually, the team consists of a wide variety of people. Some are result-oriented, others data-driven, some are silent observers, others active forerunners - just to name a few conflicting constellations.
Any method which specifically entices one character may be a put-down for another. Chances are that the things which sound fancy to an outgoing Scrum Master are not fun at all for an introvert Developer.

When you are conducting a Retrospective, do not think about "Which effects will make this Retro fancy?" - but ask the question "What would the team actually enjoy?".

Simplicity is essential

When you are conducting the first Retrospective with a team, you may be well advised to understand your team and their expectations first. The only thing you need to ensure is that the Retrospective results in viable change action. And then follow up and make it happen.

The best Retrospective may happen by simply having an open, focused discussion. But that depends on your team.

Use the minimum overhead and the minimum amount of facilitation which will give the team a Retrospective meeting their expectation.
You may occasionally use fancy effects to lighten up the mood, but do not rely on them: Any added effect could become a distraction rather than furthering the discussion.

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