Real World Retrospectives


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What does it take to be Agile? One key practice is the Agile Retrospective, a look back after each iteration to talk about what worked, what didn’t and to plan how to improve how your work for the next iteration. In this talk, we share the real world experiences of how we’ve been running retrospectives for the last year. Learn from our stories and share your own stories about your real world retros.

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  • Find me on twitter @seanyoYou can find lots of other ways to connect with me at seanyo.caSlides, with notes, are available at
  • This is my friend and colleague Matt CampbellWe both work at Desire2Learn – an online learning platform company headquartered in Waterloo, OntarioThis talk comes out of our work together – he was the scrum master for our team and I was the product ownerHe couldn’t join us today – which is too bad since he’s much smarter and better looking than me. I mean – dude lifts. If you could take a moment to say hi to him – that would be really great 
  • I love retros. I love being in them. I love running them. I’ll admit I had to work to make sure this presentation wasn’t just 30 minutes of RETRO ALL THE THINGS!!!
  • Why RetroBe Able To RetroHave a plan to take a concrete action to make your work better though Retros
  • At the end of this presentation you will have an action to take with you to do at your workWe will be respectful, not talk when others are talking and not be jerksWe will all participate and be present in this presentationIf anyone has a question, just ask.
  • Retros are a chance to review work and discuss changes. It is a key component to what most people think of when they talk about “Agile Software Development”Esther Derby – Agile Retrospectives“a special meeting where the team gathers after completing an increment of work to inspect and adapt their methods and teamwork.”Inspect-AdaptInspect the past…adapt for the futureWhat do we Inspect & Adapt? Two thingsMethods: Process, Technical Issues, Teamwork: How we work with each other. Having a retro is, in part, asking: What is our work culture?retrospectives.orgLooking Back to Move Forward
  • Looking Back to Move ForwardSounds like a propaganda posterOther defn from“retrospective (rèt´re-spèk-tîv) -- a ritual held at the end of a project to learn from the experience and to plan changes for the next effort.”“Holding a retrospective is a very old idea…It’s fundamental to discover, share, and pass along the learning from experience—something we also call “wisdom.””“A retrospective is a ritual gathering of a community at the end of a project to review the events and learn from the experience. No one knows the whole story of the project. Each person has a piece of the story. The retrospective ritual is the collective telling of the story and mining the experience for wisdom.” So retros aren’t new…we’re just using them for something new – writing letters to robots and politely asking them to do something for peopleThe 4 Questions - I don’t love these particular questions…but it is an important starting pointWhat did we do well, that if we don’t discuss we might forget?What did we learn?What should we do differently next time?What still puzzles us?
  • Textbook AnswersImprove ProductivityImprove CapabilityImprove QualityImprove CapacityBest answer: Be More Awesome…TogetherRetros are the heart of AgileI think if you have iterations and retros – you’re agile. This is my Minimum defn of Agile. Everything else is decoration and needs to prove itself to be speed holes for your work and not introduce project dragIterative, Incremental Process Improvements Validate, Validate, ValidateExperience-Driven Team CultureThe team learns how to improve themselvesSupports High-Performing TeamsOpportunity to share – making the implicit explicit - Cultivates an honest and open culture and – very importantly- trust…By trust, I mean the emotional vulnerability to take risks and be wrong (thinking of Patrick Lencioni here)Because you get to ask the question – What did we just do and how can we do it better?
  • The Starting PointWorking Agreement for RetrosWe will be honest, authentic, and work for the benefit of the teamWe will not be jerksWe have a shared valueWe all want to solve a profitable problem, that is delivers a User Centered Design and is built with engineering quality and integrity – and we want to do this together, as a team. Just do itSchedule Place & TimeTalkFacilitatorOwns guiding the discussion and is more interested in the group’s success than including their own point of view. You need to be able to put ego aside to be a good retro facilitatorOver time - facilitator can move to the back of the room and let the group manage itself only intervening when they start to go off the tracksThe working agreement is essentialOne tool that can help is the Retro Prime Directive
  • Great tool for baselining the working agreement for your retroRetro Prime Directive comes from retrospectives.orgExcellent starting place for your working agreementPLEASE don’t feel you need to use it as written…if Retros are about anything, it’s about changing how we work to be more awesomeThat goes for all of Agile – agile isn’t a set of checkboxes, it’s a process that’s focused on continuous improvement to how teams work
  • Assume AwesomenessThe Best We Could With What We Had At The TimeThat being said, the reason we’re having a retro is so we can do better and we’re going to talk about that in an honest way that is generous and kind AND authentic and real.We won’t be mean. This isn’t a place for jerks.
  • Retros rarely go the way they do in the booksWe have found a lot of different tools to help make RetrosBetterToday, I’ll take a problem-centric approach to sharing these toolsI’ll talk about a series of problems and share tools that can help you solve these problems.
  • ProblemOne person in your group talks – a lot. The result of this is that overall participation in the retro is low.SolutionsDot Voting - Small Group Work - Actionable Item
  • ProblemA team lead – such as a Dev Manager – doesn’t give enough room during Retros for others to speak. This is different from dominant speaker, because they don’t have to talk that much to do thisAnswers ALL THE THINGS: Ok – I’ll take care of that, That isn’t a problem is it? I think that? What we should do is…Solutionsleadership-free zonehave scrum master mirror feedbackTough conversation…but essential
  • ProblemNo one wants to talk.Getting introverts to expose themselves to the social risk of sharing can be a challenge Solutionspost its - get contributions from everyoneRank from awesome-to-suckAffinity Mapstart of retro - everyone describes the sprint with one wordOnce people speak they are more likely to speak againGet everyone to put their toe in the water right awayDevice-Free Zones – working agreementNo laptopsNo phonesNo pagers
  • ProblemRetros aren’t sufficiently positive – turns into group therapy complainingSolutionsWhat worked this RetroWhat do we want to keep doingWhat didn’t work – and we’ll stop doingIf we’re not going to take an action…then it’s just complainingask the question “what can we do to change this situation” 3 circles - solo effort, dependent effort, the soup – post-its on the soup.
  • Problemnew people (new hires, transfers, co-ops) don’t contribute to RetrosSenior devs have lots to saySolutionCall out all opinions are valid at beginningDirectly Ask People Post-Its, Small GroupsStorming, Forming, Norming, Performing (Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development)Retros are a great way to get from Storming to Performing smoother and faster
  • Problem – so many ideas…can’t decide what to do…Opposite of these other problems – what if everything is going great and now we have too many ideasSolutionDump & SortPut all ideas on stickies (10 or so?)Take 5 minutes – and sort into more valuable and less valuableSwitch and validateThen affinity map to further cluster/reduce Decision Matrix 2 x 2
  • Decision Matrix 2 x 2Frequency vs CorrectnessNever – Wrong: Your SpouseNever – Right: First DraftsAlways – Wrong: YouNever Wrong: The CustomerEffort vs PayoffLow Effort – Low Payoff – is it worth it?Low Effort – High Payoff – low hanging fruitHigh Effort – Low Payoff – you’re going to have a bad timeHigh Effort – High Payoff – talk to stakeholders
  • Problem All talk…no walkRetros aren’t resulting in incremental change and sustained team improvementSolutionSet the expectation to leave with 1 action to test next sprintPost the action at the top of your sprint boardPlan points for doing that action during sprint planningStart the following retro with a review of that action
  • An Awesome RetroWork The Board RetroPost-its by allRank from bad to good on the board – higher is better, lower is worseGroup issues togetherFill out an Insights chart – Start, Stop, ChangedFill out an Action – list of actions to test next sprintTrack changes on your sprint board. If you use lanes, make it the top laneList + Dot VotingWhat Worked, What didn’t Work, What to keep, What to changeCompare to the 4 Questions I mentioned before: What did we do well, that if we don’t discuss we might forget?, What did we learn?, What should we do differently next time?, What still puzzles us?Lean Coffee8/4/2 time boxingScrum Master listens and intervenes to identify actions and call Thumb VotesUp, Down or sidewaysUp – YesDown – NoSideways – Agree, but with an amendmentDown and sideways explain what it would take for them to change to a yes
  • Retrospective Wiki Christensen Grant
  • Don’t Retro?Set up a retro and try it outHave a Retro?Try a new techniqueHave problems with your Retro?Try a mitigation techniqueWe want you to have an action to take with youI invite you to share your action on twitter with the hashtags #confoo #retro We can learn from each other and support each other in working to be more awesome…together. Photo Credit:
  • Find me on twitter @seanyoYou can find lots of other ways to connect with me at seanyo.caSlides, with notes, are available at
  • Real World Retrospectives

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