Would you be surprised to find out that 80% of the 1,000+ Agile practitioners surveyed in the 13th Annual State of Agile report indicated that they practice Retrospectives?
Does that sound high or low to you? I was actually surprised that it was as high as 80% because many teams that I have coached struggle with this and try to abandon this instead of trying to master this important technique.
Even if your team is within that 80% that do practice Retrospectives, I have a feeling that your team is struggling to get value out of this Scrum practice. This is very common so don’t feel bad if you are in this situation.
So, why is the Retrospective such a difficult thing to do well?
Reason 1 – Lack of training and/or experience
Lack of team training and lack of high-quality Scrum Masters who understand how to execute this meeting effectively is one of the most common reasons that teams dread the Retrospective. There are very few resources that teach this skill.
Reason 2 – Venting as a group is counter-productive
It’s okay to let off some steam, especially when we are under a lot of stress. However, in a group setting, venting can turn into a negative when there is an absence of a good facilitator who can encourage a productive discussion about making things better. Pessimism is like wild fire; it can spread very quickly.
Reason 3 – We are not used to incremental improvements
Most project teams are used to doing what they are told, and keep doing things the same way until they are told otherwise. This is just how we are taught – to follow instructions of our superiors. This also means we are not accustomed to exploring new ways of doing things more efficiently or more productively.
Now that we are aware of some of the common issues that make it challenging to have a productive Retrospective, what can we do?
Solution 1 – Hire an experienced Scrum Master/Coach
This sounds like a no-brainer, but would you be surprised to hear that that most companies I have worked with try very hard to do it on their own and try to figure it out without outside help? This may seem like a more cost-effective approach, but the time and energy spent to ensure your Scrum team is working at optimal effectiveness can translate into lost opportunities, lost revenue, etc.
Solution 2 – Focus on small changes
Change is hard for everyone, even for those who are used to it. Encourage the team to identify one small change each Sprint that can make a tangible difference. Whether it’s changing how a tool is used, or how the team conducts code reviews; whatever it is, it doesn’t matter too much. The goal is to get the team to develop a continuous improvement mindset which could take time.
Solution 3 – Encourage and acknowledge new ideas
Sometimes we get so busy doing the day-to-day tasks that we don’t slow down to thing about better ways of doing the work. The Retrospective is intended to do just that – take a pause and reflect, regroup, and make adjustments. Try to give the team some latitude to think about new ways of doing their jobs that will be more fun and innovative.
To wrap up, whether your team is highly-skilled in running Retrospectives, there will always be room for improvement. Ask the team what they think would make their jobs easier, and support them in making the changes, however small. It could be the spark that will make a huge difference down the road.