Posted in Retrospectives, Working Agile, Working as a ScrumMaster

Shorter and fewer Retrospectives, please

Previously I have asked my team my team for feedback. I was surprised that the team rated the retrospective as our least valuable scrum event. Surprised because it is the event I, as the scrum master striving to help the team improving, put the most effort into preparing and facilitating. I honestly felt that we were making progress, and in some aspects I would argue that we were. However the team was not sharing the same perception, and then my perception does not really matter.

To show the team, that I take their feedback seriously, and to help the team readjust the focus retros on what matters for them, I designed a retro, with the following agenda

  • List all recently defined actions from memory – Besides gathering a list of actions for further treatment in this retro, the ambitions was to get the thinking going, while getting an impression of which actions we had defined actually seemed important. We used the liberating structure 1-2-4-all, to generate the list.
  • Generate insights on the listed actions – The purpose was to explore the retroactions to build shared understanding of what the next step could be. I wanted to get everybody’s perspective in play, only then can we come to a truly shared understanding. We used the liberating structure What, so what, now what, for that purpose
  • Define individual actions for moving forward – The purpose was to help the team identify small and actionable steps, that could get the ball rolling. We never got to this part in the retro. The conclusions from previous step required a shift in the agenda, more on that later.

The team discovered they had a hard time remembering what actions they had decided on, which let to the conclusion that if they cannot remember the actions, they are not that important. When asking” what is a good next step, what makes sense from here?” The team conclusion was: “Let’s do fewer and shorter retros”.

This has been the conclusions in many teams, it is like a universal and natural thing to conclude. Previously I have reacted to this conclusion with an “I know better, so we’ll continue attitude” or being childish like “Ok, then facilitate it yourself”. Sometimes I even agreed to reducing frequency and length, just to see nothing changed. None of these solutions solved the problem of not getting value out of the retrospective.

The reason for the problem not being solved, should be found in the concept of single- and double-loop learning.

Double loop learning illustration form the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide – zombiescrum.org

Single-loop learning is about taking actions within the system. Double-loop learning is about challenging the system. In our case we needed to understand why we were not succeeding with our retroactions, as well as setting a base for why we even do retrospectives, before we could determine which frequency and length we should have. Addressing this, was more important than defining actions as planned. So we pivoted.

The questions that helped me bring deeper learning at this retro was the following invitation: “I will gladly change the frequency and length of the retrospective, if we are conscious about why we want to do it, and what we expect from it – not because it is the easiest way out. So in order to get that consciousness we should reflect upon, what are the reasons we don’t get value out of our retros, despite defining small actionable next steps?”

We identified the following challenges preventing us from benefitting more from the retros:

  • Obvious problems are solved during the sprint, leaving an empty space of what to talk about on retros – which is great!
  • Actions are so small that we don’t see they fit in the bigger picture.

This let us to the action, that we as a team need to define the bigger picture. What themes would we like to address on retros, in what areas would we like to improve as a team?

Our action from this retro was to retake the evidence based Scrum Team Survey to help us define the areas where we could improve as a Scrum team. The survey gave us good insight in our improvements since last time, and helped us define new areas to improve.

Because we now have a shared understanding of the bigger picture, as well as shared understanding of why we have retros and what will be discussed in those, our retrospective quality already increased – even without changing format, frequency or length.

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