BONUS: Module 2, Retrospectives Master Class with David Horowitz

This is the second of a multi-part series on Agile Retrospectives with David Horowitz who’s the CEO of Retrium, a company that builds tools to help you facilitate remote retrospectives. The links to Retrium’s Retrospectives Academy below are affiliate links, if you prefer to follow a link that takes you to Retrium’s site, but does not give anything back to the podcast, you can. Just follow this link: Retrium.com. On the other hand, if you want to help us grow this podcast, you can follow the links below or this link to Retrium’s Retrospective’s Academy.

In the second instalment of the Agile Retrospectives Masterclass with David Horowitz, we talk about the 5 phases of a successful retrospective, and share tips and ideas for each of those phases to ensure you are prepared and get the team to find and act on breakthrough improvements. 

You can find Module 1 of the Retrospectives Master Class here. 

It all starts with a simple check-in: “Set the Stage”, Phase 1 of a successful retrospective

When we start a retrospective, usually at the end of a Sprint, the team member’s minds might be on that last bug they just closed, or the story that didn’t get delivered, or the feedback they just got from stakeholders. The Check-in phase of the retrospectives helps all the team members, and the facilitator to get into the retrospective mood. To forget the open threads that will need to be picked up later, and focus on the question: “How can we do even better in the next Sprint?”

In this segment, we talk about the Constellations exercise that helps everyone visualize agreement and disagreement with a specific statement in a way that raises engagement, and increases the energy level of the retrospective. You can find here a detailed description of the Constellation exercise for Agile Retrospectives. 

We also discuss the “one-word check-in” exercise and the “Mad/Sad/Glad” check-in for Agile retrospectives.  

For retrospectives that try to focus on improving collaboration between team members, David suggests The Circle Of Appreciation exercise. 

In this segment, we also refer to the classic book: Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. 

Gathering Data and Generating Insights, the core of an Agile Retrospective

If we want to enable deeper conversations, we need to be aware that the information that is shared will directly affect the quality of the conversations. Therefore, Agile Retrospectives require special attention to the “gathering data” phase. There are many ways to gather data, and some might even happen during the Sprint, instead of during the retrospective. 

During the retrospective, however, we will visualize that data and help the team make sense of it. 

In this segment, we talk about the timeline exercise, and how to use emotional-queues to help uncover important pieces of information. 

Soft or qualitative data can also be used to augment the use of other data in the timeline exercise. One such way is to use the “journey lines” exercise.

When the data is visible and understandable, then the team focuses on finding insights by analyzing the data and generating possible connections and causal links. Here the challenge for a Scrum Master is to prevent the team from jumping too early into solutions before they deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. 

David shares some tips to help prevent the team from discussing solutions before they have a shared understanding of the problem. We talk about The 5 Why’s technique, but there are many more. 

Making Retrospectives Impactful: Deciding what to do

Many teams fail in Phase 4, Deciding what to do. But they might fail in quite different ways. For example, some teams might want to commit to too many items at once, while other teams might not commit to any improvement. And finally, the worst problem: those teams that commit to improvements, but work on none of them. 

Great teams, understand well how many improvements they can take from a retrospective, and are clear on the commitment, maybe even including the improvement ideas as items on their Sprint backlog. 

In this segment, we talk about the ICE method for prioritizing improvement ideas and the importance of brainstorming several solutions before deciding what to do. It’s also important to use methods of consensus generation when there are several options that seem equally valuable. The commitment of each team member to the solution to be tried will directly impact their commitment to the work to be done for that solution. 

In this segment, we talk about experiments and the use of such templates as the Hypothesis-Driven Development template by Barry O’Reilly. 

Phase 5: Close the retrospective

At the end of the retrospective, our goals are to provide closure, a sense of achievement, and energy for the work ahead. 

How can we do that? In this segment, we talk about the “retro on the retro” and the “gif check-out”. Two simple approaches that help the team feel a sense of accomplishment, and also get better at doing future retrospectives. 

Which closing exercises have you used? Share those with us on Twitter or LinkedIn! 

About David Horowitz

David Horowitz is the CEO of Retrium, a platform for agile retrospectives that has powered over 100,000 retrospectives from thousands of companies across the world.

Prior to co-founding Retrium, David spent a decade at The World Bank as an engineer turned Agile coach.

He has degrees in Computer Science and Economics from The University of Maryland and a Master’s Degree in Technology Management from The Wharton School of Business.

Learn more about Better Retrospectives with David Horowitz by accessing the FREE Retrospective’s Academy by Retrium: http://bit.ly/retromasterclass

You can link with David Horowitz on LinkedIn and connect with David Horowitz on Twitter. 

Bola Adesope: The Mad/Sad/Glad Retrospective Exercise

There are many aspects that we must consider when evaluating our success as Scrum Masters. Bola reminds us that the way the team acts and behaves is a clear indicator of our influence on their progress as a team. We talk about how our different stances affect the team’s performance, and how we must deliberately move from one stance to the other when the team’s evolution so requires. Listen in to learn how Bola assesses and decides to move to the right stance as a Scrum Master.

Featured Retrospective Format of the Week: Mad/Sad/Glad technique

The Mad/Sad/Glad exercise from Core Protocols helps the team find out about problems that may not yet be obvious by focusing them on the feelings and the triggers for those feelings. For more on Core Protocols, listen to this episode on the Core Protocols with Richard Kasperowski.

About Bola Adesope

Bola is an experienced Business and Agile Transformation Consultant, Speaker and Coach with in-depth knowledge and experience working with businesses in implementing best practice frameworks, driving changes and solving complex business problems. Bola has worked on several transformation initiatives, coached teams and Scrum Masters. He’s an Agile Coach based in Toronto.

You can link with Bola Adesope on LinkedIn and connect with Bola Adesope on Twitter. 

Ivo Peksens on tools for defining Scrum Master success

Success is an endless journey for Scrum Masters, but there are tools that help us assess where we are, and also what are the areas we are already successful in. We discuss a Scrum Master self-assessment tool developed by Luca Minudel and refer to the Learning Guide for the Certified Team Coach program by Scrum Alliance (not freely available).

Featured Retrospective for the Week: Mad/Sad/Glad

The Mad/Sad/Glad retrospective format, inspired by the Core Protocols is a retrospective format that helps the team discuss the issues that are causing emotional reactions. Emotions are often symptoms of other problems the team needs to process, and this format helps address those problems.

We also talk about Kudo Cards from Management 3.0 as a way to help teams increase empathy and energy.

About Ivo Peksens

Ivo is an Agile Coach at heart. He tries to live that role every day. His view is that to be somebody like an Agile Coach is a lifestyle, attitude across everything you do. Ivo has been in IT industry about 20 years and has been a Scrum Master and Agile Coach for the last 5 years.

You can link with Ivo Peksens on LinkedIn and connect with Ivo Peksens on Twitter.

Abbas Ghahremani and the 3 key perspectives for Scrum Masters

Scrum Master is a relatively new role, Scrum itself started the rise to popularity in the early 2000’s. That means that, as Scrum Masters, we are performing a relatively undefined role.

Abbas suggests that, as part of our understanding and definition for success we should ask a few questions that help define the role for us and the organization we work with.

Abbas suggests we consider the role from 3 different perspectives: The tactical side; the strategic side; and the culture side.

Listen in to learn more about what each of these perspectives entails.

Featured Retrospective Format for the Week: MAD/SAD/GLAD retrospective and other techniques

The MAD/SAD/GLAD exercise is a simple approach to cover the different aspects of the previous sprint in a way that elicits emotional thinking. The emotions we have towards the sprint events will help elicit problems, as well as achievements the team experienced during the Sprint.

During the retrospective discussion we also mention other simple, yet powerful techniques that you can use when planning your next retrospective.

About Abbas Ghahremani

Abbas is a Scrum Master who enjoys coaching individuals and teams who are on a journey of developing an agile mindset, focusing on values and principles which will make them work lean, collaborate and generally enjoy work more!

He calls himself an agile and product person focusing on delivering value early and often to customers.

You can link with Abbas Ghahremani on LinkedIn or follow Abbas Ghahremanni on Instagram.

A “Positive” Retrospective

One of the Agile principles states that “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” These “meetings” are more likely called Retrospectives and can be held in many different formats (here are some examples https://trello.com/b/40BwQg57/retrospective-techniques-for-coaches-scrum-masters-and-oth er-facilitators ​and ​http://retrospectivewiki.org/index.php?title=Retrospective_Plans)​. The most famous is the “Mad, Sad, Glad” format, and many others are just variations of this very basic format.

Read on for the “positive retrospective” format and exercises.

Click to learn more about how you can help your PO

These formats are based on the aim to analyze the previous team’s activities in order to achieve better results. Sometimes, it may also help to analyze the successes of the team in order to understand what helped in achieving them and how to replicate such successes: that’s what I call a “Positive Retrospective”.

The period we may wish to analyze may vary; last iteration, last month, last year and so on. What do we need to organize this retrospective? The usual materials such as some stickers, pens and a whiteboard or a flipchart.

The first action to take is to create a collaborative and positive atmosphere, so ask the attendees to write down some few words of appreciation for a colleague (or more), thanking him/her for something he/she did during the given period, for the person or for the team. Give the team 5 minutes to write.

Then ask each attendee to read aloud what they wrote, speaking to the colleague they want to thank. This phase shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes.

The next phase is to list all the positive results achieved in the period.

Ask the attendees to write down on the stickers all the positive results achieved, using a short statement (one per sticker) – they will be given the opportunity to explain in the next phase. Give them 5 minutes to write.

Now ask the attendees to explain the individual positive issues, one by one. They should be concise in their description but still be able to let the other attendees understand the issue. Then the sticker is pinned to the whiteboard. If any other attendee has a similar issue, he/she has to discard it. Please be careful to avoid starting any discussion. This is the time to list the results and not to discuss them (moreover, the discussion will be shaped in a particular way, as we will see in the following stage).

Once everybody has explained their issues (this stage should last no more than 10 minutes), you’ll have all the stickers on the whiteboard. It’s time to vote.

Each attendee will have six votes to give to the issues stuck on the whiteboard: three votes to vote the issues by its intrinsic or technical value (for example, the team reduced the technical debts by 50%, or has stabilized the daily standup) and three votes to vote the issues by the positive impact it had on the product (for example, thanks to this new feature, the customer increased his sales by 20%). You can use any means to vote: in my example, we used little red self-adhesive dots for one and green for the other, but you can use different signs, different colored pens, and so on.

Why differentiate this way? The answer is easy: teams tend to identify their success with the product’s success; we delivered this feature, the customer were happy, we eliminate that bug and so on, forgetting that with success stories, many other aspects must ​ be considered. For example, adopt a more effective framework for the chosen programming language, start unit testing, practice a scrum ceremony in a more efficient way and so on. The team must learn these positive issues as well, as they allow the team to be more effective ​ (as per the above mentioned Agile principle).

Once the voting is finished, just rank the issues by the numbers of votes (any kind).Voting and ranking shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

Once the stickers are rearranged on the whiteboard (the most voted ones are on top) you can start to discuss. The format may be free (you can discuss any issue as long as you want), or fixed (an issue can be discussed for a maximum amount of time of 5 or 8 minutes, for example). Choose the format you like, what counts is the discussion itself.

Ok, let’s discuss, but about what? We usually discuss what’s going wrong, and how to fix it. Now, here instead, we’re discussing what went right! Well, we can first identify what made that positive issue possible. Usually, we can identify two main paths: one internal to the team, and one external. The internal one refers to all the actions the team takes to achieve a result, which may impact the team, the process or the product. For example, by autonomously adopting a new programming framework the team was able to deliver those given features and the customer was very happy. Note the ​ word “autonomously”: the team was not forced by any external entity to take that decision, but reached a result that had an external impact anyway.

The external path refers to all those actions taken or conditions set up by the system (your department, your local agency, your company, and so on) that made it possible to achieve that given result. For example, the team was able to learn how to deal with noSQL databases thanks to a dedicated budget for training on new and emerging

technologies/methodologies. In this case, an external reason made it possible to achieve an internal positive result. Nevertheless, we mean to say that an internal result will sooner or later reflect itself into an external positive result (or at least, this is what the system hopes…).

The discussion stage may last up to 50 minutes, to keep the whole retrospective no longer than 2 hours.

And now, just like any Retrospective worthy its name, let’s write down some action points.

Like any positive issue in any field, we aim to replicate it and also do something to improve that experience to feel even better. So we can define the underlying actions that will lead us to even better results. Some questions easily come to mind: can we replicate the positives we had during the period, applying them to current or new issues? For example, we may ask for a new course to learn a new language to create a new software asked by our customers. Or, can we improve the path that led us to have positive results to have better results or even the same results but in different areas? For example, improve the continuous integration process to have a faster/safer deployment of our deliverables.

Or just have more frequent retrospectives to improve our work!

Discussing and writing the Action Points may take up to 20 minutes.

Now the meeting may be closed. See you next Retrospective!

About Enrico Di Cesare

Always interested in improving the quality of the software produced for himself or for his customers, Enrico became an Agile enthusiast as soon as he discovered it. With extensive previous experience as a Project Manager and Coordinator, Enrico works as an Agile Coach, Scrum Master and Product Owner, introducing, mastering, facilitating and refining the adoption of Agile with new collaborative tools.