This question often comes up. Usually because a team has become bored with their retrospectives. I suggest you don’t use the same style or format more three times running. The question came up again today with a person saying that their team was doing well and had achieved a steady state. To my mind steady state isn’t the point of Scrum. Scrum is a tool to help you be the best in your industry. Scrum should be a tool you use to disrupt an industry. To that end the next time you tell me that I hear that you’re team is a good as it gets my reply will be: “Ask the team what it would take for them to be the best in their industry, worthy of a case study on Infoq or a major conference presentation. Everything between the team and that case study is an impediment. Go forth and remove the impediments”.
Update I posted this in a bit of hurry – it wasn’t really a full fledged post. To make up I’m adding a section on why people want to stop holding retrospectives:
Many teams reach a plateau and assume that they’re done since they can’t make any more improvements right now. It was this belief that I was pushing back against. Sometimes we can’t see where to go from here, but undoubtedly we can all afford to get better. It was to these teams I offered the challenge – what would it take to become a case study in your space?
A far bigger problem is boredom. Once the team has experienced the same retrospective style three times in a row, they will become bored. If you’re facilitating watch for people fidgeting, playing with their phones or having side conversations. That’s a good indication that they’re not engaged. If you keep on running the same retrospective read: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (Esther Derby and Diana Larsen) and Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders (Jean Tabaka). Google Agile Retrospectives. Read This blog. Whatever you do seek out new styles.
My favorite is the ineffective retrospective. The team walks through the meeting comes up with some SMART goals, they sit on the shelf for the next two weeks and no one acts on them. This is really no better than traditional post mortems. How to make them more effective?
- Ensure your SMART actions are achievable in the next two sprint
- Post the SMART actions on the top of your Story/Task wall – in BIG WRITING
- After a few days start calling attention to the actions at the start of Daily standup, calling more and more attention to them as the Sprint goes on
Tim Wise says
Another good post Mark.
My teams have often gotten bored with retrospectives. There are a ton of options, as you mention, for varying retros and refreshing the team while getting the team to continuously improve. Boredom may be born out of retrospective complacency, but they may also be different issues.
High performing team complacency:
I teach teams from the start, that we can always improve. They should always invest in themselves by trying new things that get them a little further. I don’t preach the best of breed notion because at some point, I do want them to feel they are the best… and I still want them to improve. A team that brings new ideas to the table even if they are killing the rest of the industry with quality and productivity is very valuable indeed.
Complacency with the value of retrospectives:
On the other side, some teams don’t actively pursue improvements during and after the retro. They may not see the value of the retro. That needs to be coached. They need to understand the value to them and the company/product.
My “when to stop” answer? Never. I always want them to improve. Very mature teams may move to a “stop the line” mentality, but even then I still want the team to value dedicated time to reflect. My only other option would be if they came up with a new innovative way to have this continuous improvement cycle.
Mark Levison says
Tim – thanks I agree with you. In retrospect the title was a bit flippant. I wrote because I keep on seeing the question come up on the various Agile mailing lists.
Ben Linders says
Mark, I have the same experience about changing formats. It helps to keep teams interested to do retrospectives, and brings up new insights which help them to improve continuously.
I maintain a blog post on different kinds of retrospective, to promote using different formats: https://www.benlinders.com/2011/getting-business-value-out-of-agile-retrospectives/
Mike Edwards says
Thanks Mark. I see the question as a sign the team is in danger of regressing back to old habits. One more for the list of why people want to cancel … “blah blah blah” … It’s when the facilitator stands at the front of the room recapping the past week/sprint/etc in great detail and why they think it went good or bad … blah blah blah
Fernando A. Cuenca says
Perhaps this goes under the “ineffective” category, but two other common
problems I see are: 1) lack of time to work on improvements; and 2)
“they need to change” focus,
In case #1, I see teams coming out
of their retros with actions to improve, but then they go into their
planning meeting and allocate every second of capacity to working on
backlog items. They don’t allocate time explicitly to work on
improvement items, nor do they feel they can include improvement as
tasks for the product backlog items. The result is the same: the
improvement initiatives stay on the shelf.
In case #2, I see
teams often coming up with a long list of “problems” framed completely
as originating outside their area of influence. The natural conclusion
then is that, to solve that, the Universe around them must change.
In either case, this generates a “what’s the point?” feeling in the team, that cause them to abandon the retros.
Another issue is that retrospectives that are not well facilitated tend to use all the timebox with poor results. I believe a 5 minutes retrospectives which leads to actionable and committed action items is more useful than a 2 hours one full of wishful thinking and not many actionable items and where 20% of the attendees speaking 80% of the time.
For many times I have seen, retrospectives and coming up with action items to improve their own work is a very unnatural thing to them. So the key for me is to avoid the “not again another meeting” phenomena and really make sure it is a way to be sure the team improves. Let’s not forget that “progress” is one of the biggest motivating factors for knowledge workers (arguably even more than “purpose” for many people).
Another point is also to make sure the retrospectives do not forget the “elephant in the room”, the large problems that do not change sprint after sprint but that really impede the teams productivity. So just a follow-up on how to improve on those big issues and have good committed action items is often better than a lengthy meeting on small issues.
Colleen Johnson says
I like the SMART goals! I also encourage teams to have a relative balance of Facts, Events, Observations and Kudos. I think many retros tends to be 100% observation based which can make it seem like everyone’s soap box moment. Events create a collective memory of what happened and help teammates remember contributing factors. Facts give the team something to concrete to benchmark, review and improve upon. Kudos create a happy, grateful environment to share and feel safe in. Rounding out all of these types of feedback creates a retrospective thats is productive, actionable and enjoyable.