Keep improving, the retrospective way, in a COVID-19 context
I work for Adeo/Leroy Merlin in a Common Digital Platform project, building products in an Agile way. Now the words “digital”, “products” and “Agile” are said in same sentence, I can follow up.
Most of our habits have changed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. For example, we used to tackle problems that we can handle easily in the feature team, but now that we’re all shut in our houses, many topics seem harder to work on, such as “I worked close to that other team, what’s up now?”, or “we used to do the daily meeting in front of the board, I can’t now!”, or even “I don’t know how to get informed often about COVID-19 decisions of the company”. Most of the deal is to get those topics back to our circle of influence (Stephen Covey’s).
With preparation, organization, and feedback, we managed to find something that works for us. Success is about “done” topics, involving people, and enhancing the motivation and sanity of teams. This is how we do retrospectives.
We are composed of 7 feature teams that all have their own Agile culture. We tend to follow Kent Beck XP’s principles as a general rule.
We also coordinate and align together with circles, and a higher-circle, following Sociocracy’s principles, formed by double linking of the functional leader and a representative of each circle.
Still, we’re sharing some Scrum ceremonies: Sprint, Demo, and Retrospective.
Regarding sprints, it’s a one week duration time in which each team keeps a relative degree of freedom on how they organize their own. No more.
About the demo, I won’t take your time in this article, but you can read a really good one from a colleague of mine, Gaetan: Story of a weekly demo, the XP way.
Yes, there are retrospectives. Every team usually do their own retrospectives their own way: you can find some games, some round tables, or sometimes more academic retros. The goal: keep focusing on actions. But now we’ve entered in the Coronavirus outbreak, other problems rose up about organization, ways to communicate, to work, etc.
Now, retrospectives are still a way to improve ourselves, but also to tackle “higher level” topics that make sense in that weird phase, helping us to take actions to work better together and to shorten the feedback loop between teams and company leaders.
Lockdown, first week. Quite a big news for everyone to get back home, but we continue working together. Many questions rose up into teams about “how to work together”, or “how can we continue collective code review”, or even “can we do some break times”?
We decided to use a tool called Discord, in which we virtualized all teams and rooms we have physically. It’s a voice chat that helps us to communicate live with each member of the team. Then, we decided to mark a time in our agenda, after the sprint review for a “global meeting” in where we could ask questions, improve some things, etc.
We knew after that we decided to have a global retrospective all together (I mean, the 7 feature teams and company leaders) to work on improvement.
First try: the “report” retrospective
It was such a mess. Everybody wanted to talk, to propose stuff. So we tried to organize things:
- ascribe was writing feedback of each person on Google Docs. The main goal was to give the possibility to speak to everyone, to keep up with others, in fact: to be in a situation as real as possible. ~40 minutes
- then we all went to the same Docs, to propose actions we could do to make our life easier in these times. There were like 20 lines of propositions, all Google Docs cursors blinking everywhere. ~40 minutes
Still, we decided to choose the main topic that emerged: how can we get news from the company on the next steps (of the lockdown).
Action: the double linking of each circles does a global short meeting each day to gather useful information of everyone and of the company, to broadcast if necessary to all teams (remember Background part, we follow Sociocracy’s principles).
We liked: success to tackle a single action, that really helps us (still present).
We disliked: …it’s okay for the first iteration, a bit long, but let’s continue!
Tried again, still too long
A similar structure was followed:
- scribe to gather individual feedback ~40 minutes
- then individual proposals ~40 minutes
But this time, 12 topics were proposed. I let you imagine 7 feature teams composed of around 5 persons, trying to write at the same time on Google Docs, then voting with a “+1” at the end of each proposal…
We tried to tackle them one per one with that 7 feature teams…, and it lasted at least 30 minutes more, without real action.
We decided to stop the retro and find a better organization for the next one.
Action: Work on an easier retrospective that still involve people, but reduce time and make it more straightforward.
We liked it: we keep in touch with every people on every team. It’s cool to be together.
We disliked: takes too much time, too messy, and too many topics were proposed.
Brand new way: more interactions and involvement
Based on the feedback we got from previous retrospectives, the goal was to limit input topics, to reduce time, and to enhance interactions.
Here are the rules we defined together:
- per team, try to think about topics in feature team retrospectives, that can be shared with all teams at the global one
- limit the number of topics per team (ex: 2)
- one person per team present their topics to speed up the presentation phase
I chose to switch to a more interactive/visual way to do retrospective thanks to Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform. You can define by colors each team you work with (c.f. gif, on the left) so that we can remember which team proposed which topic.
- The global format is simple: free talk to let everyone speak about their sprint, mood, troubles, etc. To us, it’s important to involve people, everyone must have a chance to speak. ~20 minutes
- The second part is the “production” part. Start by remembering all the actions that have been decided to follow them if necessary ~5 minutes.
Then, I like to remember that one thing:
No matter what we discover, we understand that everyone has given their best, given the situation, what is known about the project, their skills and the available resources.
It helps people to accept failures and to be proud of what has been done.
3. Then, give ~10 minutes to each team to present their topics and to place it live to Miro. It shouldn’t take more time, as teams already prepared topics. During that time, it’s important to focus on which post-its can be gathered to make a common topic to tackle.
4. It is now time to vote. For around ~5 minutes, people place two-dot votes into a group of topics.
5. You can now choose which group of topics you want to tackle. From previous feedback: choose only 2~3 topics so that you can really manage it for the next sprint.
6. A leader is set to lead a topic, and everybody split into two different Discord channels to talk about these selected topics. ~20 minutes
7. Then, everybody gets back to the common Discord channel and topic leaders present what has been decided. Following the sociocracy principle, if no one has an objection, the decision/action will be put into place to the following sprint (or more). If there is, a new proposition should be made. ~10 minutes
8. Final step, take feedback. Propose a ROTI. It is a good way to improve yourself, and some small discussions can happen. Remember, don’t challenge feedback, keep improving.
9. (optional, or not) open a live show, and have a drink all together :)
We were now able to collaborate together during the retrospective. We could now correctly think about improving our organization.
We liked: organized topics, timeboxed, the ability for everyone to talk.
We disliked it: it’s really hard to keep timeboxes fixed. We sometimes take 15 minutes more.
Feature team retro, global retro, isn’t it too much?
We keep continue and adapt global retrospectives to the context (ex: product release). The one above was “remember the future”, which helps us to focus on a future release that was difficult in terms of deadlines, security, user acceptance tests, etc.
But time was really important.
A topic emerged to discuss time allowed to meetup. The global retrospective was one of them, because across sprint planning/refinement/review and team retrospective each week (size of a sprint), the global one of ~1 hour was too long. So we reviewed the different parts of that “big retro”.
Action: keep the first part “free talk” of the global retrospective, then share teams topics all together. For the second “production” part, keep at least one member of each team to tackle subjects. His responsibility were to share decisions to the people who left.
We like: everybody still has time to express and share things together. Fears/non-controlled topics are highlighted to the “production” part of the global retro. If you lack some time, or you are not interested in global topics, you can leave, and a member of your team will sum up decisions after.
We dislike: … it’s the current version of the global meeting.
We want to keep our work and interactions with others comfortable in a context of lockdown.
By setting a global retrospective, it helps us to take actions to better work together and to shorten the feedback loop between teams and company leaders. Here are some rules to takeaway:
- prepare a few topics per team during feature team retrospectives
- fewer topics, more concrete actions
- share global retrospective board before T time, to let the others adapt to the game/support
- introduce retrospective as a time to improve our ways to work, without blaming anyone
- let people choose (and change over time) a leader for each team, to speak about their topics
- focus on timeboxes
These key points were tested over multiple retrospectives and give us good metrics over some success points we defined:
- “done” topics: 2 actions per retrospective
- involving people: increasing ROTI
- enhancing motivation and sanity of teams: everyone feels comfortable with the retrospective, and we keep improving our organization.
For us, the retrospective is a good way to inspect and improve our way to work, to collaborate. It is really important during that specific time to focus on positivity, involvement, and productivity, to live a captivating and comfortable time.
It may happen that people ask to reduce retrospectives occurrences, so it may be a good time to rework the way you retrospect, rather than giving up and let things rot.
Remember, the retrospective is a way to give the power to the team, to gain more control.