What Is a Retrospective?

Catherine McDonough

Retrospectives are an important ceremony adopted by agile development teams. We'll explain what they are and why we do them.

We are a multidisciplinary team of people that often find ourselves working on a multitude of different projects at the same time. This means that communication becomes essential to maintaining our strong team bond and company culture. Retrospectives are a way for us to communicate our feelings in an open way and be transparent with all members of the team.

Bringing together three of our key company values; transparency, sharing, kindness.

"We give feedback and respect each other, we do this in a kind way, positive feedback should always be done publicly in front of the team."

- Our values

What Is It?

Retrospectives happen at the end of a sprint or schedule of work.The whole team gets together and everyone is allowed to share:

  • Something that is working well.
  • Something that could be improved on.
  • Something that made them happy, or someone they would like to thank.

We limit cards to two each per category and they should have happened in the sprint or schedule of work as specified at the start of the session. Everyone is also given the opportunity to commend a teammate on a job well done or just to give someone a quick thank you for helping them out. We do this because it’s always nice to know that something you’ve done, no matter how small, has been appreciated - right in the feels.

We then take turns to read out what we have written and add it to the retrospective board. After everyone in the team has read out their cards we each get two ‘dot votes’ each - literally drawing a dot on a post it. We each add a dot to the cards that we think needs further discussion, you can add both of your dots to the same card if you think it deserves it. The post-it notes with the most votes then get discussed. The discussions generally last 20-30 minutes but basically they run until the issue has been resolved or until everyone in the team is happy with the outcome.

If there are cards on the board that didn’t get the votes but there is a majority decision that it still warrants some kind of discussion we will schedule some time aside to discuss this, this doesn’t happen very often.

"Retrospectives are like user research, except the product is your team."

- Damon Jagger

Why We Do It?

We run retrospectives to maintain transparency within the team. If you’re unhappy about something then everyone should know, because there might be someone in the team who can help you. Usually it's something really simple that will have a massive impact on the team.

"A problem shared is a problem halved."

- Proverb

It also allows management to keep a track of how the team is feeling. Some weeks there might be a lot of things in the confused column, this generally relates back to some kind of communication problem.

It makes us feel good! Getting our feelings out in the open, airing our grievances and resolving them together as well as thanking teammates really helps with team morale. We generally run our retrospectives on a Friday afternoon, ending the week on a high and ready to start afresh the following week. We've tried going without them before and the difference on morale is as clear as day and night. Give them a try, you'll thank yourself later.

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