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Retrospective meeting followup: 4 top ways to do it right

David Horowitz

Note: This is a guest post from Luis Gonçalves, agile coach, entrepreneur, and blogger. Luis is an expert in the field and we are thrilled to include his thoughts here. Luis is running a 10-day retrospective workshop that we highly recommend. Even better, it's free!

I'm not the only one who feels this way. In fact, participants in my workshops frequently ask me the best ways to followup on retrospectives, and I believe this is because people feel frustrated when there is a consistent lack of follow-through on retrospective action items. Why have retrospectives if there isn't going to be continuous improvement?

Things don't have to be that way! Just as there are many facilitation techniques to help you run effective retrospectives, there are also many techniques to help you improve on your ability to followup on retrospectives.

This blog post will describe four techniques that have worked well with my teams and clients in real life. These tips might seem simple to you, but they are effective. Sometimes the most effective things are also the easiest to implement!

The ambassador technique

I learned this interesting technique some time ago in a Team Coaching training course. As a coach, part of my job is to help agile teams identify behaviors that could (and should) be reduced or even eliminated. From my experience, even accomplished teams must have someone to remind them about their own behaviors.

As a coach, I'm not always around, so it's important for a team to be able to perform this practice on its own. That's where the Ambassador technique comes in handy. Teams using this exercise name one person as the Ambassador, and she or he is responsible for reminding the rest of the team about its agreements.

For example, imagine a team that has found that it performs best when its energy level is high. That team might nominate someone to be the "Energy Ambassador" who has the responsibility to recognize when the team's energy is down and to find creative ways of fixing that problem.

How does this relate to agile retrospectives? Using the Ambassador technique, a team would nominate someone to be a "Topic Ambassador" for each item on its action plan. This person is responsible for "owning" his or her action item and must ensure the team does everything it can to follow through on it during the upcoming iteration.

Electing Topic Ambassadors is an excellent technique for catalyzing real change following your retrospectives, as well as giving opportunities for improvements for new facilitators.

Add the retrospective actions to the top of the sprint backlog

To keep action items from previous retrospectives fresh on everyone's mind, I find it very useful to put them on at the top of the sprint backlog.

This technique requires that the Product Owner is closely aligned with the team and that he or she understands how important it is to continuously improve by tackling the team's main issues in sprint review. I usually coach my teams to select one single action item, and together with the Product Owner move it to the top of the sprint backlog.

By using this approach, the story with the most important each sprint is the highest priority item from the previous retrospective. This approach guarantees that the team does not forget their retrospective agreements during the sprint.

Having support from the Product Owner is very important because it gives a clear sign that whatever the team agrees to improve upon is really important and should be solved!

Use the daily scrum to ask about progress on your retrospective action plan

Starting the daily scrum by asking about progress made on retrospective action items is another way to keep the retrospective discussion at the front of the team's mind. This might seem too simple, but it can make a large difference in your retrospective process. And it becomes an even more powerful opportunity for improvement in combination with the Ambassador technique, since the team can ask each Topic Ambassador updates, and then make sure that person is working on it.

Keep in mind that the Scrum Master does not need to be (and in fact shouldn't be) the only person responsible for solving the team's problems. Any team member can take this task and should be encouraged to do so. In my own personal experience, for example, I've had many times in which the Scrum Master did not have the technical skills to tackle certain action items, the responsibility was given to another team member.

As the Scrum Master, it is not enough to simply ask the responsible person for an update, it is also important to facilitate the process of helping that person fix the issue (or else, help the person identify the individual who can fix it). If you're lucky, small problems may be solved by the next daily scrum. Otherwise, make sure to continually follow up on each subsequent day to find a way to solve this problem as soon as possible.

Create a Kanban board for retrospective action items

Some time ago on one of my coaching gigs, I created an idea board and asked my teams to list potential retrospective topics on it throughout the sprint. The board was useful because it gave the team a space to record its improvement ideas as they thought of them, rather than having to wait for the retrospective.

But it wasn't good enough! Later I realized that although the teams used the idea board to collect and record their action item list, they failed to follow up with most of them! So, I replaced the idea board with a kanban board (which has three columns: "To Do", "In Progress", and "Done"). All insights generated were put in the "To Do" column. The kanban board provided context: these were retro action items, not merely ideas. Establishing a process to follow an item's progress.

Simple-kanban-board by Jeff.lasovski. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

As I mentioned previously, I usually coach my teams to come up with only a single action item at each retrospective, but sometimes this does not happen. As a coach, I let my teams make mistakes, and then help them to understand why they failed.

Here again, I would recommend that the team use the daily scrum to discuss those action items in the "To Do" and "In Progress" columns, and to appoint people to ensure they move across the board to "Done." The kanban board simply acts as a great visualizer to remind the team that they are not done with all the retrospective action items.

There are many other ways to make sure teams will follow up with their agile retrospectives, but I believe these four techniques will give you plenty of ideas to help you follow-up on your agile retrospective action plans.

My name is Luis Goncalves, I am an Entrepreneur, Author, and Blogger. I want to thank Retrium for giving me a chance to be a guest blogger. If you like Agile Retrospectivesorhave more questions, I'd like to share with you a fantastic free course called the Agile Retrospectives 10 Days Program that I believe you will like. Feel free to join the course here.

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