Agile Software development is a set of methods and practices that are based on the Agile Manifesto. Agile methodology emphasizes team collaboration and frequent delivery of a product.
One of the 12 principles listed in the in Agile Manifesto is:
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
This principle is incorporated in an agile team in the form of Agile Retrospective meetings.
In this article, we will talk more about retrospective meetings, their purpose and some fun ways to conduct these meetings.
Recommended read => 6 Most Common Reasons You Should Adopt Agile in Your Organization
What You Will Learn:
Definition and Purpose of Retrospective Meetings
By definition retrospective means “looking back or dealing with past events or situations”.
True to definition, retrospective meetings are intended to reflect on the most recent sprint/project/milestone and identify areas that need improvement and celebrate team wins.
This ties into the concept of Continuous improvement where teams get together to discuss the areas that the team did well and the areas that the team needs to work together to improve for the next sprint/project/milestone.
Conducting Retrospective Meetings
Retrospective meetings can be held at various stages during the project:
- Retrospective meetings can be scheduled towards the closing days of a sprint and before the next sprint is started to reflect on the most recent sprint
- To review a specific problematic scenario
- At a milestone to reflect on the status thus far
Agile Retrospective Steps
Any retrospective meeting will involve the following steps:
- Set Stage – Organize meeting – Involves setting up of the meeting by the facilitator (PM., scrum master, etc.) and sending a meeting invitation to all the required team members and stakeholders.
- Gather Data – Once the meeting starts, gather all the ideas, opinions, concerns that the team members might have. This can be done via various agile retrospective activities like Start, Stop, and Continue, Paint Me picture etc.
- Generate Insights – After the data is gathered, meaningful analytics have to be identified and patterns have to be created. The idea is to identify trends and resolve them. E.g. if the team members are unhappy about the long daily stand-ups then we have to figure out what is causing this. It could be unrelated discussions, the tardiness of the team members, unrealistic time set up that does not accommodate the number of updates, etc.
- Create Actions – Once the underlying issues are identified, create action points to resolve them. Action points should be assigned to an accountable person(s) who will be responsible to resolve it by the decided due date.
- Wrap Up – Thank the team for their time and for their participation. Make sure that the meeting discussion and action points are documented and circulated to the team members for easy reference.
Agile Retrospective Meeting Formats, Ideas, and Activities
#1) What went well, What should have been done better, Action items
The team members meet and discuss what the team did well, what the team needs to improve, lessons learned and the action points corresponding to improvement areas.
These actions are assigned to an accountable team member. This discussion is documented and circulated to all after the meeting or can be saved on shared drive/intranet for easy access.
#2) Start , Stop and Continue Meeting
In this meeting the team members are asked to provide opinions about what the team should start doing, stop doing and continue doing in the sprints.
This method is very popular and effective, especially for new teams.
- Start items would be something that the team would like to add to their process e.g. Start coming on time for project meetings.
- Stop items would be something that the team no longer wants to do e.g. stop checking in code without code review.
- Continue items will be something team wants to continue doing in future e.g. Continue having daily stand-ups.
The meeting facilitator can set a minimum and maximum limit of a number of items a team member can propose. E.g. Every team member needs to provide 1 item each for Start, Stop, and Continue list and can provide a maximum of 3 items per type.
Additionally, once the complete list is compiled, team members can be asked to vote to narrow down the most important items.
#3) 5 ‘Why’ format Meeting
This meeting format is based on asking follow up ‘Why’ Questions across team members.
This meeting format is used to find underlying causes for a problematic scenario (symptom), and where the causes may not be obvious.
The goal is not to solve the problem but to understand the situation and possibly narrow down the root cause.
Each team member creates a chain of reasons due to which why they think the issue is occurring. Once the list is ready, the answers can be consolidated into a single chain representing the opinion reached by a common consensus of the group.
This works best for small teams with sizes i.e. 3-5 members.
Problem: Quality of product was not good.
Reason 1: Unstable build.
Reason: No process enforcement- No code freeze.
Reason: Scope change
Reason: Impact not identified during project planning
#4) Mad , Sad, Glad
In this meeting format, team member takes some time (5-10 minutes) to write down sticky notes for each of the emotions – Mad, Sad, and Glad .
- ‘Mad’ tends to focus on an obstructions, barriers etc.
- ‘Sad’ tends to focus on internal issues and
- ‘Glad’ tends to focus on something the team member is happy about.
After the time is up, the sticky notes are grouped based on emotions. Then the Mad and Sad issues are voted to prioritize them for creating an action item.
#5) Draw me a picture
This technique is a non-verbal retrospective technique.
In this meeting format, team members are given few minutes to collect their thoughts and express their feelings and opinions.
This meeting is a good format for conducting retrospectives where verbal communications within a team are failing, it acts as an ice breaker between team members.
#6) Circle Celebration
This technique captures feedback using Pluses and Deltas i.e. what worked well, what could have been better).
In this, the team members gather to form a circle. One team member starts and throws a throw-able soft object (plush toy, stress balls) toward any other member.
Idea is that whoever has the ball would answer 3 question:
- What they enjoyed,
- What they appreciated and
- How will they use what they have learned to improve
The object is randomly passed in the circle until everyone has had an opportunity.
Misconception #1) Retrospective meetings are boring
This is the number one reason why team members do not like to conduct or be present for a retrospective meeting.
To make the meeting more engaging the facilitator should come up with fun yet effective ways to conduct these meetings.
Misconception #2) Retrospective meeting is my opportunity to point out the below average performance of a team member
A retrospective meeting is not a finger pointing or venting out meeting.
This meeting is not scheduled to pin-point out or call out team member for their weak points. This meeting is setup in a neutral environment with an aim to improve and grow as a team. Avoid making direct comments intended at a single person. And, do remember that the aim is to become better!
Misconception #3) Only meeting organizer leads the Retrospective meetings and discusses issues
The team members should be encouraged to participate and share their point of view. This meeting is for the betterment of the team and not for a top down discussion dictated by meeting organizer /facilitator.
At the same time, team members should be made comfortable so that they can express their true point of view without the fear of being judged or fear of backlash as a result of speaking up.
Misconception #4) Senior Management/Key stakeholders are not be invited at all to retrospective meetings
This varies from project to project. Higher management, product owners may be invited to the meeting for addressing any concerns they might have or any concerns that the team has regarding their governance.
Misconception #5) Retrospective meeting outcomes don’t need to be documented
Agile methodology is based on the principle “Working software over comprehensive documentation”, however, that does not mean that team should do away with documentation entirely.
Documenting retrospectives can lead to effective tracking of action points to closure. This can also be added to historical data repositories, where the team can access lessons learned as part of Organizational Process Assets
Retrospectives are very useful for team building and team collaboration.
Team members coming together to celebrate wins and propose improvements also create a more transparent and healthy team environment. Through continuous improvement and feedback, teams become better as time goes by.
The retrospective meetings should include both human issues (personality, attitude, lack of skills, etc.) and technical issues (scope, inconsistent requirements, system stability, etc.).
It is recommended that retrospective meetings be conducted at all levels and not just at the development team level.
The retrospective meetings can be conducted at the end of a milestone, end of a sprint, post mortem of an incident or issue, after major events, etc. Make sure that your retrospective meetings are documented and the action points are tracked to closure.
Last but not the least, make your retrospective meetings fun!
About the author: This useful article is written by Neha B. She is currently working as a Quality Assurance Manager and specializes in leading and managing In-house and Offshore QA teams.
Do you know of any fun ways of retrospective meetings that are not mentioned in this article? Please do let us know by posting your comments.