Stop “Stop, Start, Continue” and just pump it up, pump it up…

Everything you need to know about agile product marketing and development is buried somewhere within the lyrics of Harlem’s classic hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

Well, maybe not everything, but they did inspire me to run a killer retrospective that you’re gonna want to try with your team.

The Background

I’m an agile guy on AWeber’s marketing team. We’re obsessed with email marketing. A few weeks ago, we launched Campaigns, our largest product launch of the year, in tandem with hosting our second annual digital marketing conference, ASCEND. We had around twenty wildly intelligent individuals across marketing, design, and product collaborate on both epics over three sprints. By the end we were exhausted. It’s called sprinting for a reason, you know.

While our agile squads typically run “Stop, Start, Continue” after sprints, I recognized a need to gather all of the cross-functional team members together for a project retrospective, and to switch up the format. The same old same old wasn’t going to cut it for such a large launch. So, I tapped into one my deepest passions — late eighties hip-hop, of course.

Enter The Joy & Pain retrospective. (Pump it up, pump it up.)

The Premise

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that “Stop, Start, Continue” is boring. If your retrospectives are boring, then your team is probably boring. Or, they’re afraid of conflict and discussing real issues. A lively agile team committed to kaizen will dig deep to unearth the process improvements needed to achieve great results. Sometimes, they’ll need a little nudge — and this is where mixing up the retrospective can yield success.

Our team has had fun and uncovered some hard truths in the past by running the Starfish and Sailboat exercises after larger projects. The Joy & Pain retrospective is really just “Start, Stop, Continue” + Sailboat with a fresh spin.

Everyone knows the song Joy & Pain by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. If not, the hook goes a little something this…

Joy, and pain…
Sunshine, and rain.

They throw in the occasional “pump it up, pump it up.” You’d know it, if you heard it. I solicited some snickers from the group when they heard what we were doing, but that simply broke the ice.

One of my main objectives with this retrospective was to have the team get their finger on the pulse of sentiment and morale. I didn’t want to simply walk away with just learned lessons.

Here’s how it works…

The Practice

Write each word on a board, or one word per easel pad. You want to end up with four buckets to record notes and observations.

Joy | Pain | Sunshine | Rain

Here’s how I described the categories to the team:

Joy: For all intents and purposes, this is Continue (with a twist.) Typically, Continue yields things that teams deem to be successful, or good. The stuff they liked, as opposed to the stuff they didn’t like. For Joy, I encouraged the team to bring up those things, all the behaviors that drove success, but also to simply state things that they were proud of. I challenged the team to think about all of the aspects of the project that made them feel good to come to work each day. This is also an opportunity to share props for other team members.

Pain: These are your Stops, but with the same injection of sentiment. Instead of simply stating what didn’t work, have the team discuss things that simply felt uninspired, or phoned-in. This is an opportunity to unearth cracks in the team’s dynamic, a lack of clarity around intent, or morale issues. For some, work is work, and I get that, but I believe that for a team to perform at their best, everyone must be actively engaged, excited to show up, and proud of their output. The maturity of the team will determine how comfortable members are with constructive conflict.

As the facilitator, keep the team on track and don’t let this derail into a complaint session. While the feedback should be honest, a retro is never an opportunity to be disrespectful, hurtful, or destructive. When introducing sentiment, it’s possible that team members may see this as an opening to vent. Use your best judgment to know when personal conflicts should be taken offline.

Next, draw a line between Joy | Pain and Sunshine | Rain. I positioned the difference between the two as looking back on the project, and then looking at the weather ahead. Data is great, and feedback is valuable, but only if the team is applying it to the challenges ahead.

Sunshine: Position this category with the following question: “Knowing what we know now, what essential behaviors does the team need to do, or change, to ensure continued success (sunshine)?” The result may be a reiteration of Joys, and direct responses to Pains, but the goal here is to identify actionable tasks, processes, or behaviors that can be owned and prioritized for future sprints and initiatives. It’s not looking back, it’s looking ahead.

Rain: There will be challenges ahead. Some teams have the self-awareness and foresight to see emerging storm clouds before the storm, but most challenges appear without warning. This final piece of the exercise pushes the team to identify any known obstacles or hurdles that may prevent the team from being successful. Once identified, discuss potential defense strategies that the team can focus on to prepare. In other words, if you know it’s gonna rain, grab an umbrella. If you know it’s gonna snow, salt the driveway. Get a read on the future climate, and don’t over-plan for the unknown, but at least discuss how the team should respond when needed.

The Conclusion

That’s the exercise, I hope you give it a shot!

And to bring it all back to the Base, allow me to quote another classic hip hop lyrics from this dynamic duo.

It takes two to make a thing go right.
It takes two to make it out of sight.

There is no I in agile! Okay, well there is an I in agile, but you get the point!

Success is a team effort. Have fun, be real, and utilize your retrospectives to not only make the things go right, but seriously, make them out of sight.

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