Retrospective comes from the latin word ‘Retrospectare’, which means to look back. In the software development world, retrospective refers to a team meeting together at regular intervals to reflect on past work, usually just a week or two. I’m a deep believer in you need to reflect in order to learn from your actions. If you do not reflect, you’re bound to repeat your mistakes and miss your successes. I’m interested in hearing how others conduct retrospectives, so I will share the things I learned about each stage of a retrospective. For the first blog post of this series, I will focus on set the stage.

  1. Set the Stage (the current blog post)
  2. Gather Information/Generate Insight
  3. Take Action

Set the Stage

Setting the stage is often a quick activity that helps set the mood for the retro and/or help the retro leader decide how to conduct the rest of the retro.

For example, recently we played bear-ninja-cowboy, which is a variation of rock-paper-scissors. Fun activities such as these get people’s blood moving and loosen their creative juices. These activities are useful for new team members. It break the ice and allows members to feel more comfortable around each other. It is also helpful for teams who already feel comfortable around one another. Perhaps, it’s been a stressful day. A silly game can lighten the mood. If the team starts off retro with negativity, this may hamper their ability to discover solutions. They may even exaggerate the issues and forget their accomplishments. Starting with a positive attitude makes it more likely for individuals to seek out viable solutions and not let their negative feelings cloud their judgment.

As part of the set the stage, it is helpful to do a quick assessment on how the last sprint went. For example, each member thinks of one word to describe the sprint. There are many other variations of this such as drawing a weather phenomena (rain/sunny day) or giving a score between 1-5. I’ve met a team that did anonymous online surveys asking team members how they thought the sprint went. This is a useful tool if you want to avoid having team members influence each other’s opinion. However, it is important to ensure that you’re not keeping this anonymous to hide a concerning issue – team members do not trust each other enough to be honest. Getting a quick assessment can help you decide how to gather information for the next step.

Instead of having one person responsible for leading retrospectives, we rotate retrospective leaders amongst our team. Even if members use the same format, they lead the retro with their own unique style, giving it a fresh perspective.

I met this team that always started their retros with shout-outs. This is when each member of the team thinks of a compliment for all the other members of the team. This helps the retro start with a positive energy. Another variation of this is having a hot seat. One member is in the hot seat and all the other team members think of compliments for that individual. Part of being on a healthy team is celebrating each other. We often let work get in the way and forget to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments. Carving out time for moments of celebration ensures that individuals won’t feel undervalued.

We once had each of our team members come up with the super power they have, such as being able to stay on task or detecting smelly code. I was surprised how some of my team members struggled with coming up with their own super power. This is a useful exercise that teachers members how to recognize their own strengths. We are quick to point out our own shortcomings instead of focusing on improving our natural strengths. Although it is useful to recognize your areas of improvement, it is equally, or possibly more important to recognize your own strengths.

It is tempting to skip this step of setting the stage and jump into gathering information, but this may lead to a less effective retrospective. A silly activity can transform a tired, stressed team into a team with smiles on their faces. A retro leader might think the sprint went well, but then through a quick one word assessment, discovered that multiple members felt differently. By setting the stage, you point the retrospective in the right direction.

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