The right way to retro

What really helps push the needle forward on a software development team? Knocking out tasks are the goals in each Scrum sprint, but what if the completion of each of those tasks is a brutal experience? Or if you want a forum to really tell your team that they are doing a great job on reviewing your pull requests? That is where the sprint retrospective comes in.

From scrumguides.org, the sprint retrospective can easily be defined as an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint. This is in an integral part of the agile development process that helps identify and solve problems, as well as keep team morale climbing. You have probably seen value in retrospectives, or you have come to the conclusion that they are negligible and time wasters.

The wrong way to do it

We’ve worked in many different sized teams, whether it is yourself and your lead, or a lead with a few other peers, or a larger team with 10+ members. Regardless, if you have been a part of agile programming, you have ( presumably ) been exposed to the retrospective. From my experience, these retrospectives were after thoughts, or something I felt we did going through the motions.

Picture this — you essentially toss the ball in the air and ask what your team did well and what your team did wrong throughout the sprint. Two people bring up two different scenarios that were negative, one person isn’t paying attention and typing on their laptop, and the rest is just crickets. There is little to no value here. You can identify some areas of improvement, but there is no accountability; no immediate cause for concern. It is a session in list making that never seems to go anywhere. Potentially the same issue has come up multiple times over a few sprints, which can be discouraging.

The opposite seems to get lost in translation. You say something positive, or someone says an experience with developer A was great. Fantastic! Then it becomes an afterthought. Worse, something negative gets brought up and overshadows achievements.

From experience this process is usually done round table with some tracker up on a projector, or as an email jotted down that may or may not be sent after the meeting. This process is too informal. We want an open forum, and we want everyone to speak their mind. We want accountability and to shine a light on the things that we are solid at, and the things that we need improvement on. But we need a baseline to work from.

The Remi way

At Remi we have a proven process that works for our team. Retrospectives open up with everyone on the team getting involved. We have our two columns, the things that went well, and the things that need improvement. Then the magic happens:

  • Each team member writes one thing in each column ( requirement )
  • Go into detail of each line item if further explanation is needed
  • Each team member takes 100 points for each column and divides those points amongst what they think is most important
  • The top two of each column is circled and discussed

This is the process. No corners cut. No laptops allowed. We sit down and hash out what works and what doesn’t. This gives everyone a voice of their own opinion. This allows laser focus on two topics that everyone has agreed need improvement and two topics that everyone can give a high five to. Each topic that was circled gets discussed by whomever wrote it. These line items are tracked and can be reflected on next sprint. If it’s something that we need improvement on, we discuss how to solve it and hope that it doesn’t show up again. If it does then pressure is put on what isn’t working and we solve the problem.

As an anecdotal note, we make sure to end on the positive column. That way, we can all walk away with a little extra pep in our step!

Ending on a positive note!

Each sprint team will have their own process that works for them. The retrospective can be a powerful tool in the right hands. The Remi process is in fact a variation of experiences over the year. I know personally that since joining Remi, I have gotten a lot out of the experience. It helps make all of our experience incrementally better and is one more brick that helps make a cohesive team.