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Culture DevOps

I like retrospectives

Retrospectives changed my life.

If you didn’t already know, a retrospective meeting (or sprint retrospective as Scrum calls it), is simply a method for teams to identify improvements that could be made. These improvements could be to working practices, tooling, software deployments, seating arrangements — pretty much anything!

Personally, retrospective meetings have given me a way to reflect on things that happen to me, and my teams, and to improve on those things for next time. A retrospective can be used as a tool to gauge the health of your team, to relieve any areas of contention, or simply allow your team to blow off steam (this is important).

Here is how to run a successful retrospective and some key things to look out for, from a successful retrospective meeting.

Format

In it’s simplest form, we should be asking “What went well” and “What didn’t go so well” in the last sprint or month. I’ve seen the “What we should continue doing”, “What we should start doing” and “What we should stop doing” format work very well too. Below is an example of how a retrospective meeting might look.

10 minutes — Review last working period
Review work completed in the last sprint/month

10 minutes — Write post its
– In your team, write on post its the things you want to talk about. Group them into the “What went well” and “What didn’t go so well”
– Take turns in sticking them on the whiteboard/wall with a brief explanation for each one

5 minutes — Voting
– Each person vote on the thing they’d like to dive further into

30 minutes — Deep dive
– Tally votes
– Talk about things with the most votes
– Document actions, ensure they’re assigned to somebody with a due date to be completed

5 minutes — Review
– Review actions and high five each other

Outcomes

The most obvious outcomes from your retrospective should be SMART actions that remove blockers and make your team more productive (and happier, as a result!).
But more than that, the more you collaborate and share experiences like this, the closer your team will feel. An almost intangible outcome from having regular retrospective meetings is that your team should feel more together, more honest, and more willing to work for each other. The “win as a team, fail as a team” mentality will kick in. “No blame” culture will soon follow!

Culture

I talk about culture often. But a retrospective meeting should be highly collaborative — everyone should have the chance to use their voice. Honesty and openness are paramount, as, without those two things, little or no value is to be had. As a leader, encourage the awkward conversation when you first start this process — it’ll pay off!
In my experience, the addition of retrospective meetings leads to new levels of honesty and openness. The ability to hold colleagues and peers to account, without them feeling attacked or blamed, is very powerful and a great place to be.

In conclusion, a retrospective meeting is a hugely powerful tool for improving your team and it’s productivity. You can use a retrospective to unearth common problems and blockers for your teams, whilst improving morale. There are so many wins to be had from having a retrospective meeting — Why not try it?! If you do try it, let me know how you get on with it. I’m really interested in hearing from you!