Tag Archives: retrospective

Retrospective Technique: What Did You Learn?

Retrospectives are a key part of continuous improvement in Agile teams.  The retrospective techniques that a team uses should be adjusted to the needs of the team.  In a Scrum team, for example, the ScrumMaster will often decide on the techniques to use based on the current issues facing the team and then facilitate the retrospective for the team.  There are some great resources which give you collections of tried-and-true retrospective techniques including Esther Derby’s book “Agile Retrospectives” and the amazing online tool “Retr-o-mat“.  As an active consultant and trainer, I am always looking for new techniques to share with my clients.  Sometimes, I even create a new one (or at least new to me).  The “What Did You Learn” technique is new: I’ve been using it and testing it for a few years now to refine it.

What Did You Learn?

By itself, this is a powerful question.  As part of my work with OpenAgile, I’ve been helping teams and organization to focus on learning as an even broader category than continuous improvement.  The Learning Circle and the processes in OpenAgile help with focusing on learning.  The question “what did you learn?” is very open ended, and can certainly work as an extremely simple type of retrospective in OpenAgile or in Scrum or other Agile methods.  Often people like to have a little more structure and guidance so the “What Did You Learn?” retrospective technique provides four categories of learning for people to think about, share, and discuss within a team.

Setup

Setup for this retrospective is very simple: a flip chart or whiteboard divided into four sections or columns works fine, along with a piece of paper for each person in the retrospective, divided up the same way, and sufficient markers and pens for everyone.  Here is a downloadable PDF version of the handout for the “What Did You Learn” retrospective.

The facilitator will also participate at various points if they are a member of the team (e.g. a ScrumMaster).  It is easiest to do this with a group in-person, but can also be done reasonably well with video or teleconferencing.

Process

The facilitator introduces the retrospective with a welcome and, if necessary, a recitation of the Retrospective Prime Directive.  Then, the process is described to the group.  Each of the categories of learning is also explained as follows:

  • Questions.  When you can formulate a question about something, it means that you have learned about a gap in your knowledge.  In other words, you have discovered something that you would like to learn.
  • Information / Data / Facts.  These are specific details that relate to some area of knowledge or skill.  This category of learning is the simplest and is often what people focus on when asked “what did you learn?”  Information tends to be dry and unemotional.
  • Insights / Concepts / “Aha!” Moments.  Often when we have a collection of facts or an experience, we see a pattern or make interesting connections between things.  This leads us to the great feeling of an insight.  Insights tend to be exciting or scary and have an emotional component.
  • Action Items.  These are decisions about what we would like to do in the future, but they could be extremely short-term or very long-term or anything in between.

There are three main stages in the retrospective as follows:

  1. Individual Reflection.  For 10 to 15 minutes, each individual works silently to write down the things that they have learned in the appropriate category on the handout.  Everyone should try to get at least a couple things into each of the four categories, but more is welcome.
  2. Sharing with the Group.  Systematically going around the group and getting people to read from what they have written.  This is another 10 to 15 minutes.  This stage should not get bogged down in discussion, but brief clarifying questions should be welcome.
  3. Identifying Important Learning.  The group now has open discussion to decide on a small number of things it considers the most important that it has learned.  This could be based on popularity, but impact, depth, or uniqueness might also be factors in considering importance.  These are the items that get written down on the flip-chart.  This is usually the longest part of the retrospective and can take up to 30 minutes.

Applicability

This is an excellent retrospective for a team that is going through a significant transition such as starting a new project, a major change in business direction for a product, or as a wrap up technique for sharing lessons learned with other parts of an organization.  It is not a good technique for a brand new team that hasn’t worked together before as there will be little common ground for deciding on the importance of peoples’ various shared learning.

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Family Kanban for Cleaning

Two nights ago I had a great discussion with my son, Justice Berteig, about how we have been managing to do house cleaning every week.  We have been using a very basic Kanban system.  I have created about 100 stickies each of which has a basic cleaning task such as “tidy the kitchen counters” or “vacuum the office floor” or “clean the powder room toilet”.  If we do all of the tasks, it represents a fairly complete cleaning of the whole house.  Every Saturday morning, all six of us (myself, my wife and our four kids) choose one task at a time and put the sticky for that task in the “In Progress” column.  When we finish a task, we move it to the “Done” column.  When all the tasks are done, we all are finished.  We reuse the stickies each week.  Sometimes if we want to do a quick clean, we won’t put out all of the stickies.Cleaning Kanban - Task

It works well in one specific way: everything gets done!

But Justice was complaining about the system because he works a lot harder and one of my younger kids has admitted to doing less than she could… because she can get away with it with this system.

Last week we tried a modified system where each person has a task allocation.  For example, Justice had an allocation of 25 tasks.  Our younger daughter had an allocation of just 5 tasks.  We then took turns to choose one task at a time (although there were a lot of exceptions to this) until all the tasks are pre-allocated (similar to how teams used to do Sprint Planning).  But, although some people finished all their tasks, not everyone did and so there were a number of things left over that never got finished.

In other words, we stopped using a Kanban system, and we stopped reaching the overall goal of a clean house.

So Justice and I had a long conversation about this problem.  In the interests of continuous improvement and experimentation, I didn’t just force the issue back to the old Kanban system.  Instead we decided to try the following changes:

  1. Limit the tasks to only those in common areas.  Private areas such as bedrooms would be taken off the master list.
  2. Each task would get an estimate from a scale of 1 to 3 to represent their relative difficulty.  We will talk as a family about the estimates and maybe use a simplified “bucket system“.
  3. Now, instead of an allocation of a specific number of tasks, the allocation would be for a total amount of effort.  We agreed that our youngest would get a smaller allocation still, but she could take any number of tasks to fill it up.
  4. We also agreed to be more disciplined about taking turns to choose tasks.

I’m going to add one more thing which is to do a specific retrospective on how it worked to see if we can come up with further improvements.  I have to admit that I hope we go back to the Kanban approach!!!

Check out our new Kanban training offering: Kanban: Gentle Change currently available for public enrolment in the Toronto area and for in-house delivery wherever you might be!

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Project Lessons Learned vs. Sprint Retrospective – 17 Points of Comparison

Another fantastic article by Mike Caspar: Sprint Retrospective vs. Lessons Learned (a Generalization)

Mike says:

Consider reviewing these differences in your environment to determine if you are getting benefit from your Sprint Retrospectives and following their intent.

 

Here are a few other Agile Advice articles about Retrospectives.

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The Rules of Scrum: Your ScrumMaster uses the Retrospective to help your team improve its processes and teamwork

The Sprint Retrospective is a key meeting where the team discusses how to improve. Like the other meetings in Scrum, the ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring it occurs and that it is well-facilitated. There are three main purposes of the Sprint Retrospective: honestly review how the last Sprint was conducted in all aspects including skills, relationships, processes, environment, culture and tools; discover the key aspects of the previous Sprint that need to be carried forward or improved; and, plan how the Scrum Team will improve the way it does work. This meeting aids the team in inspecting and adapting the entire use of Scrum and how the team is progressing as a team. The Sprint Retrospective is a check point that helps the team to know its current state, compare to its desired state, identify gaps, and take the needed steps to improve. This meeting is also where the ScrumMaster challenges the team to look deeply at itself and its process without fear. When a Scrum Team fails to hold and participate in this essential meeting, the team is likely to become a Scrum Team in name only without the spirit of Scrum – and therefore lose many of the far reaching benefits that many other Scrum Teams have experienced.

To learn more about using retrospective to help your team improve its processes and teamwork, visit the Scrum Team Assessment.

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The Rules of Scrum: I attend every Sprint Retrospective Meeting in-person

The Sprint Retrospective meeting supports the Scrum value of Openness and the principle of inspect and adapt.  This rule of Scrum also aligns with the Agile Manifesto principles “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”  In-person attendance of all Scrum Team members allows for the fullest level of openness among Team Members which in turn is necessary to use the Retrospective to find improvements in how the team functions.  If even one team member attempts to attend this meeting by any other means, either by phone or even video conferencing, efficiency and effectiveness of the openness and inspect and adapt becomes compromised. Compromise on these principles yields compromised collective ownership of improvement efforts. Lack of in-person participation increases the likelihood that the team will fail to implement improvements because the openness and inspect and adapt will lack effectiveness.  This, in turn, hinders the team from reaching a high-performance state.

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The Rules of Scrum: There is no break between Sprint Review and Retrospective meetings

After a team finishes its Sprint Review, the Retrospective meeting should begin immediately.  Of course, there may be a small transition period as non-team members leave a meeting room or as the Team Members go back to their team room.  However, there should be no work on the system done between Sprint Review and Retrospective.  This quick transition between the two meetings is primarily to ensure that everyone has a clear memory of the Sprint.  If there is a gap between the two meetings it can lead to a number of sub-optimal behaviours: team members may do work without the knowledge of the rest of the team, there may be a growing desire to delay the retrospective, or even pressure to skip the retrospective.

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The Rules of Scrum: Review and Retrospective meetings are timeboxed in total to 2 hours / week of Sprint length

Timeboxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants.  In Scrum, the combined length of the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings is determined by the length of the Sprint.  For example, a one week long Sprint has Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings that are timeboxed to two hours in total.  It is acceptable for the meetings to take less time, but not more.  A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to four hours.  Keeping the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings timeboxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective inspect and adapt in a very short period of time.  If the meetings are not timeboxed, then typically the team will keep going until they are “done”… and break the timebox of the overall Sprint.

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The Rules of Scrum: Every Sprint includes Sprint Retrospective for the team to inspect and adapt

The last part of the Sprint is the Sprint Retrospective.  This meeting is a private meeting for the members of the Scrum Team (including the ScrumMaster and Product Owner).  In this meeting, the Team Members discuss how they did their work during the past Sprint and come up with ways to improve their work in the next Sprint.  Scrum does not define any particular techniques to use during the Retrospective meeting.  The Retrospective is complementary to the Sprint Review.  The Review inspects “what” was done and the Retrospective inspects “how” it was done.  The Sprint Retrospective is critical for the team to apply the principle of “inspect and adapt” that is core to Scrum.  Missing the Sprint Retrospective is a critical failure of the ScrumMaster’s job to ensure that the principles of Scrum are being used.  If a Retrospective is missed once, what may happen is that some Team Members might feel that missing it was not so bad.  There will not likely be any immediate consequences to missing the Retrospective.  However, the attitude that the Retrospective is not important will be implanted in the team.  This then quickly leads to further compromises and eventually, the continuous improvement parts of Scrum are abandoned and the team focuses purely on the execution parts of Scrum.  The team will then fail to become a high-performance team since that high-performance state is predicated on systematic, conscious self-improvement of how the team does its work.

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Awesome Agile Article about the Retrospective

Glen Wang, a former student of mine, has written another fantastic article about Scrum called “The Retrospective: Know Yourself and Adapt to the World“.

I love Glen’s philosophical take on things!  This article is strongly recommended to any ScrumMasters, Process Facilitators and Agile Coaches out there!

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Interesting Retrospective Exercise

Called “Mr. Squiggle” after an Australian TV show, this exercise looks great! Thanks to Patrick Kua for this great idea.

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