Monday, January 16, 2017

Bringing power into your Retrospectives

Many people consider that the purpose of a Retrospective is to let the team reflect what went good or bad in the last iteration, then decide on a few significant modifications to the process. Well - that's not wrong. Yet, it's a bit short-sighted. The most powerful retrospectives transcend that level. Here are a few pointers:

Bored of yet another Good-Bad-Improve Retro? Good!

Fit for purpose

Let's start out with the question: What is the purpose of a Retrospective? The obvious answer is: "To improve the process." Let's dig below the surface by asking more specifically: What determines the effectiveness of the process?

An action is either what we do - or how we do things, You can not expect to have an effective process if it contains ineffective actions. Therefore, we desire to replace actions with more effective actions. Likewise, we like to abolish unnecessary actions. And we should harness the power of our most effective actions.

The standard purpose of retrospectives is to improve actions of the team.

The more things you do at the same time, the less focused your work is. The more disruptions of the work we tolerate, the less business results we create. An unfocused process generates low value even when every actions is maximized for effectivity.

Another purpose of retrospectives might be to increase focus of the team.

While Retrospectives are a points of reflection, they are often induced, triggered reflection. Having reflection points on the calendar is good - albeit very limited. To reduce delays in improvement, increase understanding and maximize the likelihood of successful changes, reflection needs to be an innate skill of the team.

Retrospectives can help the team improve their reflection ability.

Systems Thinking
The system within which a team operates constrains the team in many ways that they may be unaware of. For example, a local optimization may make work easier for the team, yet destroy business opportunities and therefore reduce sustainability. Understanding the impact of the system on the team and the impact of the team on the system is essential to effectively improve.

Retrospectives can foster Systems Thinking.

Collaboration is not only how individual people do their work with proper alignment - it is how people integrate their work with each other. Just like Pair Programming combines two brains on one task, collaboration enables the team to accomplish the same thing easier, faster and better. 

Retrospectives may open doors for better collaboration.

A team which is coached through a Retrospective is not only conducting activities. While the coach provides tasks to the team in order to guide their reflection process, the coach has the precious opportunity to observe how the team behaves and thinks in a controlled, protected environment.

Retrospectives are a tremendous opportunity to observe.

A wise coach not only leads a Retrospective to a result by guiding the team through the Retrospective process, the coach actively controls the process and experiments with the social and creative dynamics of the team while doing so. This experiment generates insights into the psychological and social structure of the team, which can later be used to change behaviours.

Retrospectives are the coach's experimentation sandbox.


To maximize the power of your retrospectives, you need to transcend the level of simply defining improvement actions. Use Retrospectives on multiple levels at the same time to:

  • Improve the process
  • Focus the team
  • Instill a reflection mindset
  • Nurture collaboration
  • Observe the team
  • Conduct social experiments

When planning your Retrospectives, move away from finding techniques which entertain the team while going through the mandatory frequent improvement routine. Transcend this level and look for ways to work with the team on many levels.

The potential optimization goals of Retrospectives described in this article are not comprehensive. They are intended as a reflection opportunity to maximize the impact of your Retrospectives.

Add power to your Retrospectives by clearly determining the goals you want to reach, then finding ways to achieve this. 

No comments:

Post a Comment