When we start facilitating retrospectives (I still remember the first ones I facilitated), we are often focused on getting the structure right, and we may forget that we can uncover insights at any time during the retrospective. This module is all about increasing our chances of facilitating a productive and effective retrospective.
Team Norms, a productivity and engagement tool for Scrum Masters
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
In the first installment of the Agile Retrospectives Masterclass with David Horowitz, we talk about the basic setup for a successful retrospective. It all starts with what David calls the triangle of success: People, Process/facilitation, and Follow-through.
How to set up your Agile Retrospectives for success with the right people
In this episode, we interview 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.
As David started his Scrum Master journey, he was faced with a big challenge. He struggled with remote retrospectives. No wonder, he ended up creating and being the CEO for a remote retrospectives company. He experienced the pain first-hand!
As he got started experimenting, he found the Lean Coffee format to be effective (see our Lean Coffee episodes). However, he found that even when the format worked well, there was something else missing.
The collaboration that can be had when the team is in the same room simply isn’t the same when we are all remote, and sometimes even without video!
As Cosima started her Scrum Master journey, she decided to invest and study psychology. That would open up new ways to look at her work in the role of the Scrum Master. The search for a more science-based approach to her work led her to study psychology, which later helped her understand that she couldn’t be a developer and a Scrum Master anymore.
Remote teams, and quick tips for facilitating #Remote Lean Coffee
Diana and I were kicking around a few topics for this episode, and we ended up selecting “Agile and Leadership, friends or foes?” The idea is to talk about how Agile and Leadership play together (or not)
In this episode, we talk with Diana Larsen and Jutta Eckstein about what problems Leaders try to fix with Agile, what challenges they have when they try to adopt Agile, and we will do this with the focus on the Scrum Master role, and what they can do by working with the leaders of the organizations they work within.
Let’s start by defining some of the major challenges we see happening out there.
The 3 biggest challenges on how Agile plays (or not) with Leadership
Some of the challenges we mention in this episode are not new. You are probably familiar with many of them. We talk about how Agile requires us to think about leadership as a distributed responsibility that team members need to take on, which is itself a major challenge for Scrum Masters as they help their teams understand what that means in practice.
We also discuss how important it is to understand that leadership is not simply a “role”, but also something we need to earn, including Scrum Masters.
Finally, we talk about the important role that leaders play for the teams they work with. Specifically in setting the direction that helps the teams adopt quicker processes like Hypothesis-Driven-Development, for example.
How Scrum Masters can cope with these challenges
We then discuss how Scrum Masters can understand, and learn to cope with these challenges. Not surprisingly, Agile Retrospectives come up as a critical tool for Scrum Masters to use when working with teams and their leaders.
Regarding collaboration with leaders, we discuss how Scrum Masters can help teams focus on the right goals, which need to be defined in cooperation with leaders in the organization.
But there’s a second tool we discuss that complements perfectly the work we do with the retrospectives and helps the teams and leaders understand where they can contribute the most: visualization as a way to establish a shared context.
Do Scrum Masters really need to protect the team from their leaders?
Stop me if you have heard this one before. Way back when I was taught that Scrum Masters need to protect the team from interference. Although it made sense to me at the time, with the passing of time, and after collecting more than a decade of experience, I have come to value a different approach.
In this segment, we talk about the need (or not) to protect the team from Leadership interference.
The goal, of course, is to generate a real collaboration between the team and the leaders in the organization.
The key resources on leadership and Scrum by Diana Larsen, Jutta Eckstein and Vasco Duarte
Given that leadership, and the collaboration between teams and leaders is a critical topic for Scrum Masters, we discuss some of the resources (books, podcasts, articles) we’ve found useful and informative on how to tackle that collaboration.
Scrum Masters all over the world make a significant effort to get better at facilitating retrospectives… Until they have to host a Distributed Retrospective. At that point, we learn that all you learned about facilitating retrospectives is still useful, but not nearly enough!
Preparing, hosting, and facilitating a Distributed Retrospective is a completely different challenge.
The 4 things that you need to make Distributed Retrospectives work
I am a big believer in continuous improvement, weather that be in the form of Retrospectives, a Kaizen approach, or something else that helps the team reflect regularly. But for the earlier years of my career as a Scrum Master I found myself frustrated by a lack of improvement despite all this reflection (retrospectives that have no impact…).
Often,what I was seeing was that we talked about the problems the team was facing, and then didn’t follow-through with the actions we agreed to take.
When we tried to change our behavior. We might have succeeded for a day or two and then would forget about it. This isn’t continuous improvement this is just continuous discussion!
We need a good way to make sure we are actually making the change we set out to make!
We like to keep our retrospectives fresh. We find it helps to reveal things we might not otherwise have found if we alter the format frequently. With this goal in mind, we follow a simple system:
Once a month we use our ”normal” retro format. Everyone in the team is familiar with this, and we can perform them quite quickly, with minimal prep work and explanation required. Basically, effective with very little admin.
Once a month we have our ”experimental” retrospective. A little more set-up time required, but a good opportunity for experimentation and explorations.
This is the story of one such retrospective.
Obviously, you can perform many Agile practices, but not be Agile. However, there are a lot of practices out there and sometimes teams can become focused solely on those that they are currently using, rather than looking at other tools they might bring to bear. This is where the Agile Practices Retrospective comes in.
In preparation for the retrospective, we created cards with various Agile practices as headlines, and a brief explanation of each listed on it. I also color coded them under various categories so they could be more easily identified from afar. Then we simply taped all these cards to a wall in their respective categories. There were about 50 cards in all.
With over 50 cards, there was a lot of information. We split into groups and started categorizing the cards under a new set of headings, it was made clear to all that they were not expected to read all the cards.
Doing (Working Well): Things we are currently doing, and quite happy with the way they currently work.
Doing (Could be better): Things we are currently practicing but could use improvement.
Not doing (By choice): Things we are not currently practicing, but have made a choice not to use in our context.
Not doing (Not tried): Things we are not doing, and have never really tried.
WTF!?!: We have no idea what this is, or what it means.
Deciding what to focus on
We obviously cannot talk about all these things. So, we used dot voting to decide what topics to focus on. Each team member was given 3 ”dots” for each of these types of vote:
We should start and or alter this practice in some way. (Indicated by a dot)
We would like to learn more about this practice. (Indicated by a +)
I also printed out simple list versions of the same information, as I knew it would be hard for everyone to gather around the board when deciding how to use their votes. Despite this, this was still not as successful as we would have hoped. Part of this is because we are actually two teams and our 3 customer representatives, so the whiteboard was too crowded. I feel this would go better with a single team.
Discussions and action points
We had open discussions and tried to create action points/experiments around the topics we had discussed. I will just give a very brief of what we arrived at:
Root Cause Analysis/ 5 Why’s
We even arrived at the fact that without formal tools, we are still quite good at root cause analysis. But perhaps a formal tool might reveal something we would have otherwise been unaware of.
Experiments: 1)Focus on using our discussion time during retrospectives (Generate Insight) to use more formal tools like 5 why’s.
2) When events are added to our timeline at daily stand-ups, then we should also consider doing a more in-depth analysis of those items.
Discussion: We felt that we very likely do have a product vision, and even a fair amount of impact mapping done for that, but this is not communicated to the entire team at a frequent enough rate. Also, we need to get better at following up these things.
Experiments: 1)Make the product vision more concrete and communicate it at a regular interval.
2)Follow the vision and impact map up at a regular interval.
Behaviour Driven Development (BDD):
Discussion: This is a discussion point we wanted to learn more about. So, the discussion was brief. We basically arrived at the fact that it was intriguing and we want to know more.
Experiments: 1)The two team members who know something on the subject will provide some links and a quick intro for everyone else.
2) Some of the team will experiment with these concepts in our ”Brain Day” next week.
This retrospective was reviewed well by the team, everyone generally liked it.
It was a fairly active retrospective, because of all the moving things around and working in teams, so the energy level remained high throughout.
Probably the best aspect of this retrospective was the addition of fresh concepts into the team, the idea to focus on things we wanted to learn more about was a good one. In the future, we would probably recommend only focusing on these things.
There was a fair amount of prep work involved in this one, although I consider it worth the investment, it wasn’t free. Hopefully, a bit cheaper for you, as we have provided the work we have done. Once again: https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6
It was too hard to get an overview with so many items, this may have been due to team size, and might have been possible to mitigate by having the team read the list beforehand.
Despite there being so many items, the list was not even close to exhaustive, and it was hard to leave off some practices that really should have been included.
Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organizations both small and large.
Jeff is also involved in the Agile community and is one of the founding members of Gothenburg Sweden’s largest agile community at 1500+ members , and he also organizes the yearly conference www.brewingagile.org.