Get Better Faster: Ultimate Guide to Practicing Retrospectives

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Are you practicing retrospectives?

Whether you are involved with agile development or not, the best way to ensure continuous improvement in your organization is to reflect and learn from past work. Through the practice of retrospectives, business professionals of all categories and levels can quickly learn to work more efficiently. Retrospectives are an effective way for organizations to:

Provide better insight into overall performance
Help identify process impediments and solve lingering problems
Clarify goals, roles and communication needs
Develop a team culture that values open and honest feedback

Inside you’ll find insights from experts in the field including Charles Parry of Signet Research & Consulting and the co-founder of Scrum himself, Jeff Sutherland. Topics covered include:

How retrospectives work for individuals and teams
Tips for better and more productive retrospective meetings
Details on the facilitator’s role in the retrospective process
Ideas for increasing participation and buy-in

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Get Better Faster: Ultimate Guide to Practicing Retrospectives

  1. 1. GET BETTERFASTER THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE PRACTICE OF RETROSPECTIVES
  2. 2. GET BETTER FASTERTHE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE PRACTICE OF RETROSPECTIVES What Are Retrospectives?............................................................. 2 The Business Benefits of Retrospectives........................................ 5 Customize Your Approach to Retrospectives.................................... 6 Three Metrics for Reviewing Progress............................................. 8 Expert Insights: ARCs vs. Retrospectives........................................ 9 Eight Tips for Conducting Better Retrospectives............................ 13 Appendix.................................................................................. 15 Checklist for the CEO/Executive Team..................................... 15 How to Get Feedback from Your Team..................................... 16 How a Facilitator Can Ensure Success in Your Retrospective..... 17 Facilitator’s Guide................................................................. 18 How to Participate in Retrospectives....................................... 23 Frequently Asked Questions Related to Retrospectives/AARs..... 23 Eleven Tips to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Meetings...... 25 Additional Resources ........................................................... 26
  3. 3. In 1945, the managers of a tiny car manufacturer in Japan took stock of theirsituation and discovered that the giant firms of the U.S. auto industry were eighttimes more productive than their firm. They realized that they would never catchup unless they improved their productivity tenfold.Impossible as this goal seemed, the managers set out on Early success may also cause the dismissal of issues thata path of continuous improvement that 60 years later had currently look trivial but actually represent symptoms of sig-transformed their tiny company into the largest automaker nificant trouble ahead. It can encourage the firm to put thein the world and driven the giants of Detroit to the very brink bulk of its resources into a single business strategy that looksof bankruptcy. as though it is the winner rather than preserving flexibility to experiment and iterate the way to sustained profitability.In that firm — Toyota — the commitment to continuousimprovement still prevails: more than a million suggestions It can cause the leadership team to be trapped inside afor improvement are received from its employees and dealt “feel-good bubble” where bad news is avoided or glossedwith each year. over and tough issues are not directly tackled. This can lead to an evaporating runway; what was assumed to be a lengthyThe key practice of continuous improvement is the retrospec- expansion period can rapidly contract as unexpected prob-tive review: a process of reflecting on what has been done and lems cause the venture to run out of cash and time.finding ways to generate a better outcome for customers —delivering more value or delivering it sooner. In this world view, When done right, the retrospective review can be a powerfulthere is no such thing as “best” practice; every practice can antidote to counteract these tendencies.be improved. Nor is there any such thing as “unskilled labor”;there is only work to which intelligence has yet to be applied. This eBook breaks down the key components of the retro- spective review. Inside you will learn why it is important, findThe retrospective is particularly important in the expansion details on how to go about it, and discover the pitfalls andstage of a business. This is a period when the firm is starting difficulties that lie in the way of conducting retrospectivesto see results and its leaders are beginning to experience the successfully.thrill of success. Yet paradoxically, the beginnings of successare often the cause of the high rate of failure. Early success Stephen Denningcan lead to overly rosy projections and overconfidence in Author of The Leader’s Guide to Radicalwhat is currently working while underestimating the difficul- Management and The Leader’s Guideties that still lie ahead. to Storytelling
  4. 4. What AreRetrospectives?Retrospectives are periodsof reflection during which a What just happened?team or individual reviewsand reflects on a project,action, or occurrence and What went wellasks four key questions: & why? What did not go well & why? What can we do differently next time? Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 2
  5. 5. Retrospectives, and their close cousin After Action Reviews (AARs), are simple practices that offer youa quick, easy, and efficient way to continuously improve. They can be formal or informal and take placeafter any action/project/initiative or on a regular schedule. Retrospectives can also be easily adapted tomeet the needs of your organization.Reflecting on completed work is arguably the single most important thing that any team can do for con-tinuous improvement. It is essential to understand the nature of your performance before you can makethe right adjustments to improve the next time.RETROSPECTIVES DEFINEDIf you’re a company using Agile Software Development practices, your teams are probably already holding retrospectives after thecompletion of each sprint. Retrospectives, however, are not just for development teams.Reflection can be a useful tool for continuous improvement for people at all levels of any type of organization, from the receptionistwho answers the phone all the way up to the C-level suite.The reflections take place upon completion of: a specific event Retrospectives are not project audits. Instead, they seek to reveal what can be done a project/initiative better the next time around. They are not about a milestone placing blame and creating more work, but rather helping individuals and team members a day, week, month, quarter, or year of work learn and improve. any other situation when work has been completed Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 3
  6. 6. An AAR is very similar to a retro- For individuals, retrospectives can be simple and informal moments of reflection. For example, the employee who gets off the phone and thinksspective, but while the terms are about what he just said and what he will say differently next time — or theoften used interchangeably, employee who reviews her activities at the end of each day to determine if shethe four key questions vary from has met her goals, and if not, figure out what barriers were in place that she will remove tomorrow.retrospectives. They are: For teams, retrospectives can run the gamut from 15-minute daily or weekly What did we set out to do? progress meetings, sometimes called huddles or scrum meetings, to more structured meetings ranging in length from one to three hours. What actually happened? The meetings follow general guidelines and are run by a person who has been Why did it happen? appointed the facilitator. The goal is for the team members to walk away with three specific, actionable improvements. What are we going to do next time? There are three primary roles in a retrospectives practice:AARs were introduced by the 1. The CEO and executive team ­­ responsible for supporting the effort, — communicating its value, and ensuring that retrospectives are heldU.S. military in the 1970s and regularly and results are achieved.are now standard U.S. Army 2. The facilitators — responsible for setting up and executing retrospectiveprocedure. The Army recom- meetings and following up to ensure that the changes get implemented.mends spending 25% of the time 3. The team participants — responsible for actively and openly participating, getting the best ideas on the table, and prioritizing those ideas.answering the first two ques-tions, 25% of the time answering Later in this eBook, we’ll share some guidelines to help each person initiate the practice of retrospectives.the third, and 50% answering thefourth. AARs have been growingin popularity in business environ-ments over the last several years. Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 4
  7. 7. The Business Benefits of RetrospectivesTeam-oriented Why conduct »» Helps the team identify and fix problems retrospectives? »» Develops a team and project culture that values open and honest feedback Retrospectives and AARs »» Improves team cohesiveness and productivity provide quick results in »» Helps eliminate issues that might otherwise fester »» Helps clarify goals, roles, and communication needs a short time and can be »» Identifies people issues as well as process issues applied to a broad range of »» Gets people to commit to making necessary changes activities. They are simple,Process-oriented adaptable, and scalable. »» Provides a list of things that went well and common items to improve Importantly, they empower »» Provides better insight into operational performance individuals and teams to »» Identifies where preventive measures can be taken to reduce project risks »» Increases efficiency of project planning and process development remove barriers together quickly and effectively.Knowledge-oriented »» Knowledge gained helps avert future crises »» Establishes repeatable, successful behaviors »» Creates a knowledge-based learning culture »» Enables you to position the company as a learning entity Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 5
  8. 8. Customize Your Approach to RetrospectivesThe level of formality of the meetings depends on the team and the company; environments canrange from conference rooms to teams huddling in a work area to teams going out for pizza and beer. 1. Assign a facilitator 7. Everyone says what worked and whyA general approach forconducting a retrospec- 2. Set an agenda that provides the 8. Everyone says what did not work questions in advance and whytive with a team entailsthe following: 3. Schedule the meeting for as soon 9. Everyone offers ways to improve after an event ends as possible 10. The team prioritizes three areas to while the experience is still fresh improve upon (other ideas can be 4. Set the meeting for one to three put into backlog) hours, with one hour often being 11. The team members thank and/or ideal apologize to each other where 5. Ensure that all team members appropriate are present 12. The facilitator follows up to ensure 6. Ensure that everyone knows the that the three items have been ground rules in advance acted upon Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 6
  9. 9. Method 1:CardsNewer teams may be more comfortable writing their input on 3×5 cards. Next, the facilitator reads thefirst group of cards (what went well) and then the second (what needs to be improved). He or she thenasks the group to identify themes and records them on a flip chart or other visible surface. The teamvotes on important themes, prioritizes them for discussion, and identifies three actionable improve-ment items.Method 2:Brainstorming DiscussionThe team discusses all the things that went well and the facilitator records them under a headingentitled “pluses” on a visible writing surface. Next, the team discusses what needs to change and thefacilitator records those items under “deltas.” As the discussion proceeds, the team members becomeinspired and offer ideas to be recorded under “action items.” The team then identifies three actionableimprovement items. Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 7
  10. 10. Three Metrics for Reviewing ProgressMetrics are extremely helpful for tracking performance and gaining insights that will help you improveyour retrospective practice efforts. The metrics for retrospectives fall under three broad categories:Retrospective Retrospective Retrospectiveactivity metrics implementation metrics result metricsMeasures the inputs to your Measures whether the actionable items Measures whether the implementedretrospective efforts: for improvement are actually getting changes are leading to meaningful implemented: improvements to your customer»» Are the retrospective meetings perception, employee perception, taking place? »» What prioritized actionable items and/or business, such as:»» Is everyone attending the meetings? for improvement have been imple- mented? »» Higher customer satisfaction scores»» Are the meetings well organized and effective? »» What prioritized actionable items »» Improved conversions in one or more for improvement have not been areas of the business»» Are the participants actively implemented? engaging? »» Overall productivity metric »» What issues are causing items not improvement»» Are the meetings generating to be implemented? prioritized and actionable items »» Higher quality scores for improvement? »» Improved employee satisfaction»» What issues are preventing solid scores meetings from taking place? Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 8
  11. 11. Expert Insights: ARCs vs. RetrospectivesExtending the value of regular retrospection by using Action Review Cycles (ARC)A Harvard Business Review article, “Learning In (ARC) over the last decade by Signet Research &The Thick Of It,” describes the practices of a nimble, Consulting. It consists of three straightforward ele-winning organization characterized by the executive ments that fit into existing cycles of planning and exe-editor as “likely the world’s premiere learning organi- cution. These interlinked disciplines provide a meanszation.” Key takeaway: the discipline of After Action to organically shape a culture toward ever greaterReview (AAR) cycles can be an effective means of accountability, coherence, and resilience in facing abuilding organization-wide agility to the point where fast-changing environment.it becomes a competitive asset, yet AAR has been Charles Parrymisunderstood and misapplied by many organiza- Partner, Signet Research & Consultingtions seeking its benefits. Those that succeeded under-stood the AAR as one part of a learning disciplinethat strengthened their ability to sustain success. LEADER’S INTENTThis methodology, developed by the U.S. Army over BARthree decades, has been successfully articulated and SITUATION PLAN EXECUTE RESULTSadapted for corporate use as the Action Review Cycle AAR Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 9
  12. 12. ADVANTAGES ARC has a broad purpose, which from its inception has been to shape a learning culture, enhance What are the team readiness to succeed in challenging situations, and strengthen leadership skills. A sparse yet advantages/ complete system, ARC can be fitted into almost any repeating context where it makes sense to build disadvantages an “island of mastery” of continuous improvement. In part because ARC does not require special of ARC? roles (such as Scrum Master) or changes in existing team structures, time frames, or decision-mak- ing, it has been successfully added into existing work flows across a wide range of industries, levels, and functional areas within organizations, from executive suite to customer service call center. DISADVANTAGES The downsides of ARC are primarily found on the front end. ARC represents an investment of time that at first can be an obstacle to adoption. Still, it can be made very efficient with some practice and guidance. ARC requires courage on the part of managers to clarify line of sight and their com- munication of intent, pursue sticky issues that may have been avoided, and insist that action items are followed through ­ in a word, lead, and not all managers are ready to embrace such a shift. As — individuals increasingly choose to take on greater accountability, it tends to “rock the boat.” SIMILARITIES How are ARCs For people who are engaged in collective efforts to produce great results, AAR and Scrum retrospec- similar to/ tive meetings give structure to soliciting feedback aimed at continual improvement. Each is part of a different from larger iterative methodology that uses learning from recent actions to shape future results and build that into the way work is done. Both methods establish team alignment on a plan up-front, then asks retrospectives, participants to identify what to sustain and improve immediately following that unit of action. such as those that are part DIFFERENCES of the Scrum Before action: As a quick follow-up to planning, short Before Action Reviews (BARs) lay a founda-method of product tion for learning through the unit of action to be harvested in the AAR to follow. The team sharpens alignment on the intent for action, makes sure lessons from the past have been applied, anticipates development? challenges, and articulates a shared focus it believes will be key to team success. It serves to push teams to improve both their performance and thinking, and mitigate against the natural tendency for individuals to optimize their task performance in ways that sub-optimize the overall effort. It also creates a readiness for team-level agility as conditions and information inevitably change during execution, and helps team leaders identify what sort of data will likely best inform the AAR. Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives | 10

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