Back to the sources: Retrospective Basics – Part One

Inspired by a mentoring I did with a friend and by the “This is retrospective facilitaton podcast” episode with Gitte Klitgaard I decided to write this multi-part article on (some) basics for retrospectives:

  • Part One will be this intro and I’ll share the my very basics
  • Part Two elaborates on the right dosage of of variety in your retrospective (facilitation)
  • Part Three will then be on The My (secret) fuel for Inspect & Adapt and discuss some helpful stances for retrospective facilitators.

‘Why another article on “basics” for retrospectives?’ you might ask. That’s a valid question as there are heaps of helpful material out there from well-known, way more exerienced people than me.

I decided to add to this abundance as a combination of sharing my experiences and inspiration with you, spiced up with knowledge bits & pieces. I know some are following my journey from dev to Scrum Master since 2016 and – even more important – some got inspired by my articles from the practitioner’s trenches.

Before diving right away into some core aspects of good retrospectives, let’s quickly define the term ‘retrospective’ for this article series: For me…

… a retrospective is ANY consciously planned work session with the intention to reflect and learn from past actions/experience and design next steps together.

No specific (agile) framework needed! (yes, even big “unagile” corporations can have retrospectives in some of their teams ;-))

My Very Basics

Especially the mentoring I did reminded me of a couple of things that I seem to have already incorporated like “retro facilitation habits”. Because hose things were great eye-openers for my friend (who’s an electrical engineer that does some “team stuff” and projectmanagement “on the side”).

We talked about:

  1. telling people about your agenda (a.k.a. your plan) – preferably upfront
  2. getting everybody in action with writing (ideally!)
  3. consciously choosing your exercises having different thinking styles and traits of people in the backpocket of your mind
  4. giving people time to think and stand the silence

Share your agenda

There are different people with different needs. Some want and need thinking time ahead. Some don’t. Some like surprises more, some less.

By telling people about your agenda (a.k.a. your plan) – preferably upfront – you raise the likelihood that more people will feel included with their different work styles.

If you cannot send it in advance (it shouldn’t be additional stress for you!) then provide a brief overview at the beginning of the retro on what you plan to do with folks.

Everybody gets to write

Your job is to create the space, to hold the space and to close the space. Your job is facilitation. That’s (sometimes) a pretty tough job! Even if people don’t SEE it.

Ask people to write stuff down, ask people to use the material you provide. Get people into action themselves.

Sometimes discussion may spark and flow. That’s okay. But don’t get trapped to “just talk”… or even worse: do not stress yourself because “YOU need to capture it all”.

Asking people to write stuff down…

  • makes THEM reflect
  • and it makes THE TEAM reflect
  • and it let’s YOU do the facilitation of the group.

Getting everybody to write is a win-win-win.

Choose your exercises consciously

There are folks who think best alone. There are folks who need to talk with others in order to “think at their best”.

Consciously chosen exercises can serve both (or most of people because thinking styles and traits of people are never a “black or white” thing).

One example to replace a “typical brainstorming” with a conscious structure that serves more human variation is 1-2-4-all (in German) from Liberating Structures.

Give people time to think…

… and stand the silence!

Yes, standing the silence isn’t easy. It neither is when you invite people to an activity (and watch them think or work. Nor is it easy to stand the silence when asking the team a question… and then keeping your mouth shout for… 1-2-3-4-5 loooong seconds.

People need time to think.

If you (feel) rush(ed): you are not alone! Oh dear, did I myself sometimes rush through some things in my worklife – even in retros. My advice:

Notice it when you’re rushing (bonus points for telling folks that you just noticed that you’re rushing) – and change it next time.

In case you’d like a great read on this subject, then Nancy Kline’s ‘Time to think’ is THE book of choice.

And you?

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences – to broaden our common horizon, see more clearly and learn from each other:

What is “the one thing” or aspect that is a ‘very basic’ of a good retrospective for YOU? Where do you disagree with my views?

See you soon for part two