To do or not to do — Retrospectives

Ankit Agrawal
4 min readMay 23, 2021

Thank you

( for collaborating and writing this blog with me. Our first, published, Agile Collab :)

What is a retrospective?

Retro literally means looking back, it’s said ‘Hindsight is 20/20’ i.e. we are better able to see things and identify what we could have done better for events that have already happened. Retrospectives as the name suggests is an opportunity to look back on events to celebrate success, inspect & adapt where there is scope of improvement

What it is not?

It’s not a blame game for a failure that has happened, rather an opportunity to do better by avoiding mistakes/improving things from the last events. The retrospective prime directive aptly summarizes this

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Why is it important and how does it benefit us?

Innovation can only happen when people are given the space and time to experiment, where there are experiments failures and successes co-exist. Imagine trying to imbibe a culture of innovation in your organization and on the other hand penalizing people for failure. These are contradictory ideas.

For innovation to flourish, people need a safe space where they can call out their ideas, experiment on them and are motivated to try out more things when they fail.

Retrospectives are one of the ways these safe spaces are promoted. Along with appreciating people, they should provide a safe space to people to discuss feedback on them, processes and tools for the betterment of the team. To gain insights on what has happened so far and plan improvements for the future.

Who are they for?

For anyone who wants to inspect and adapt, could be individuals, teams or entire the organizations.

How do you run a retro?

There are 1000’s of format and 100’s of tools available on the internet. Attached image talks about a few.

But here are a few tips on things to be done pre, during and post the retrospective.

Pre retro

  • Identify if you have any area to focus on eg. team’s emotional health, how the last release went or it could also be a generic retro
  • Basis above, Select a suitable FORMAT & Setup the space/ board as you think will work best for your audience

During Retro

  • Check if SAFE SPACE? If Not, do a safe space check but DO NOT cancel retros
  • Explain WHY, Publish Retro Prime Directive
  • Explain Format & Tool
  • Give time to individuals to introspect and write down their points, but leave more time for DISCUSSIONS (e.g. <10 mins for 1hr. Session)
  • Group / Sort / Club themes. Helps in prioritization & avoid duplication, saves TIME (optional — only if there are many topics for discussion)
  • Post introspection, Start with POSITIVE points and then look for area of improvement
  • Derive ACTIONS and Assign them, make a list and read before start of next retro
  • Always end on high notes, APPRECIATIONS

Never let it turn into a BLAME GAME

Post retro

  • The most important and ignored aspect is following up on actions from the last retro. If people see no improvements and this keeps on happening , they lose faith and consider this session a place where empty talks happen, nothing changes over a month and in the next meeting we are still discussing the same points because either no actions were derived or assigned or followed up from the last retrospective.

Often enough that it gives an opportunity to inspect and adapt but not so often that it does not leave space to work. The answer lies with your team, it’s for you and your teams to decide. With scrum it’s usually at every sprint end and in Kanban I have observed teams conduct it every month.

Some commonly asked questions

  • We are too busy, shall we skip?
  • Do we need it every month/sprint end?
  • We don’t have points today, can we cancel?
  • Nothing bad happened last sprint, can we cancel?

And the list can go on..

For all teams who want to cancel it because they are busy — ‘Don’t be so busy writing that you forget to sharpen your pencil’

And for the ones who think, we don’t have points or nothing bad happened, Remember no team is perfect and there is always a chance for improvement and attaining perfection is a journey.

So what are you waiting for, if you are not doing a retrospection, START and get on a marvelous journey of improvements and innovations and if you are already doing them, CONTINUE. And do share your insights from the way you conduct these retrospectives and what has helped you.

After all it’s good to retrospect on the way you retrospect :P

An excerpt from Andrew Carnegie’s famous quote

“When you go digging for an ounce of gold, you have to move tons of dirt to get an ounce of gold. But when you go digging, you don’t go looking for the dirt, you go looking for the gold”