A retrospective provides the opportunity for teams to get together and tweak "something" that impacts their outcomes so they achieve better results than before. Teams use retrospectives for joint learning, making a decision, choosing an action or strengthening a common bond. In Scrum, retrospectives are held at the end of each sprint. Kanban is non-prescriptive about retrospectives, but most kanban teams end up doing retrospectives at a regular interval or an as-needed basis.
Noted that some teams resist the retrospectives and lose them entirely. Why does that happen and what is the impact? Well that's another article for later.
Here is we look at the positive side and some of the ways that agile teams use retrospectives to their advantage. This list is but a small subset of many possibilities on what agile teams can do in a retrospective!
- Raise the bar on their own performance: Based on the strengths and weakness, Agile teams inspect and adapt, either improving their performance or adjusting to new situations they encounter in order to stay on course.
- Prioritize problems that the team must address: Teams usually identify multiple problems and areas of attention during the retrospective and then they narrow down what is most important for them to solve.
- Solve difficult problems: At times, the team identify a particular problem that needs to be solved without even going through the rigor of listing and prioritizing the problems. Teams deploy various problem solving techniques, such as root cause analysis or five whys, or even discussing the results of an A3 process together.
- Review data, important trends: Scrum Masters and others in the team may collect important data and trends for the team to review during the retrospective. The data can be anything related to the team's functioning, or related to an important issue that the team would like to resolve. Looking at the data together often produces new insights for all team members and helps finding the best way to resolve the problem.
- Ask for organizational and leadership support: Depending on the organization, some problems may be beyond the team's sphere of influence. By prioritizing and discussing possible solutions, the teams make a case for change that would impact them positively.
- Cheer, appreciate, express gratitude: Retrospectives can also be one of the forums to celebrate success on completion of a hard initiative, an effort or any activity that the team undertook. Teams utilize the retrospective to bond together and appreciate each others' strengths and contributions and thank each other for critical help in completing or making progress towards a goal.
- Support each other: A healthy team harnesses and extends ideas from its members. Retrospectives are an opportunity to strengthen some of the beliefs and the ideas that team members want to adopt. In that process the team members support each other and make progress on what they think is important.
- Challenge each other: Not only are the retrospectives meant for supporting ideas, they are also meant for challenging different ideas. Challenging different ideas helps the team narrow down to the one or few that the team wants to try.
- Experiment: Teams, Scrum Masters and facilitators to experiment with what they do in their retrospectives so they can amplify the value derived from the retrospectives. They can experiment and vary the format, agenda and results they want from the retrospective, or just use it to have a conversation to make changes that are needed.
- Agile Retrospective Resource Wiki
- Sprint retrospectives
- Retrospectives: Prime directive
- There's hope (usually!)
- Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen