Home > Agile > To retrospect or not retrospect; that is the question

To retrospect or not retrospect; that is the question

Steven “Doc” List shared his and Chris Matts discussion on retrospectives. A site from Chris Matts:

I consider retrospectives to be an anti-pattern. If you are learning great stuff in your retrospectives, it means that your communication is blocked. They are “batches” of “feedback”. I prefer single piece flow of “feedback”.

It is important to stress that he means organized retrospective meetings. I don’t think anyone believes that reflecting on the past is a bad thing. But Matts has a point that the meeting might lead to people not taking care of issues straight away. And this almost like keeping bugs on a queue; you keep bugs in your process.

I think we must really think about how we can avoid this behavior, but still I believe that sitting down and under calm circumstances reflecting on the past gives a bigger picture. The problem might not be obvious to one single individual but becomes obvious when many look at something.

One of my favorite retrospective exercises from Agile Retrospectives is the time line. People gather around a time line and posts issues, feelings or incidents on the time line. By using color coded postit notes, you can afterwards look back and see the emotional state of the team during a time period. I use Mad (red), Sad (blue) and Glad (green) and the participants are instructed just to write an explaining word.

When there are ups and downs in the collective emotional state of the group. This makes it possible to pinpoint periods where many are facing problems and perhaps you can see patterns. Often the negative emotions move downstream to other team members.

If also enables team members to see this for themselves and perhaps gain knowledge about the feelings of others. And finally, it helps people reflect on their own feelings. How did I feel about the testing environment not being up and running when I had the time. I perhaps expressed anger but what I really felt was sadness that I wasted all that time. And yes, I did feel really happy about that visit from the project sponsor where he really answered my questions.

So no, I don’t think that retrospectives are an anti-pattern, if used correctly.

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Categories: Agile
  1. 2009/09/17 at 4:17 am

    I don’t agree with eliminating retrospective meetings.
    – The increase in software development performance with Scrum is in part due to the developers focusing almost solely on development during that part of the scrum. If they were to stop in the middle to modify the process, they could lose velocity.

    – Real change requires the right people be there. It’s hard in most companies to get face time with decision makers and stakeholders during planned times, let alone for a spontaneous process improvement talk.

    – Removing the official retrospective meetings may marginalize the importance of retrospecting, so it actually happens less often rather than more often, as you predict.

  2. 2009/09/17 at 6:54 pm

    Hey Anna, good topic!

    We discussed this today in my team, actually. We fully agree with your conclusion that just sitting back in a quite surrounding once a week and reflecting on what has happen leads to insights you would not find otherwise.

    On the other hand, if something pops up that should be discussed, why wait? In my team all expressed they feel secure enough to show their feelings to the others. This may lessen the importance of the retrospective somewhat, but there is still great value. And for teams in earlier stages of forming or inexperienced in agile ways, the retrospective means everything.

  3. Anna Forss
    2009/09/19 at 5:19 am

    this is one of the things I also are consider in my current project, since we’re using kanban we don’t have the natural sprint end where we can hold our retrospective.

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