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An Agile Prime Directive

Fans of the hit series, Star Trek, might recognize the term prime directive as a guiding rule whenever members of Starfleet encounter an alien planet. 

But agilists maybe more familiar Norm Kerth's 2001 version of the prime directive as a guiding light whenever members of an agile team are discussing issues.  

What is the Prime Directive for agile? 

First published in Norman Kerth's 2001 Project Retrospectives: A Handbook For Team Reviews the Prime Directive is defined as: 

"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."
-Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

Since its release, the prime directive has become, not just a mantra, but a mindset for agile teams around the world, particular as an opening activity for teams' sprint retrospective. 


Why is the Prime Directive important to the agile retrospective? 

“We start meetings by stating the Prime Directive. We find it helps put everyone in the right mindset.” - Kat Crichton-Seager is the Head of Engineering ClickMechanic

Retrospectives can easily become stressful events that devolves into a venting session or a round of the blame game. 

An effective retrospective meeting, however, can be a positive experience where teams can create valuable action items and adjust action plans as necessary to become a more effective team. 

Using the directive to set the stage for a retrospective is a beneficial way agile companies can establish a common belief and focus before teams start their meetings. Teams that start with a directive-based activity to set the stage are more likely to remain focused on larger issues, encourage idea generation, and develop the psychological safety needed for a successful agile environment. 

How to incorporate the Prime Directive into retrospective meetings?  

While stating the prime directive can be a great start, teams that include a relaxation breathing activity while reflecting on the prime directive are able to better incorporate the inclusive vision and positive attitude at the heart of the directive. Taking a moment to focus when sets the stage for a productive discussion for team improvement. Why? Science has shown that teams that start with a controlled breathing exercise or formal meditation are able to control emotional reactions, improve cognition, all the while improving overall collaboration. 

Incorporating a Prime Directive meditation when setting the stage for your retrospective allows the facilitator and participants to not only align on the conversation, but also focus and engage with their teammates in a meaningful and innovative discussion. 


Learn how Retrium COO, and certified as a professional leadership coach and mindfulness meditation facilitator, Niki Kohari sets stage and create focus within our team with a Prime Directive Visualization exercise.


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