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Using Data Effectively in your Retrospectives

Retrium Team

“Gathering data creates a shared picture of what happened. Without a common picture, individuals tend to verify their own opinions and beliefs. Gathering data expands everyone’s perspective.”
- Diana Larsen and Esther Derby, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Have you ever been in a meeting where the facilitator asks a somewhat-ambiguous question about progress and everyone starts talking about entirely different struggles that don’t necessarily pertain to one another?

Sure you have. Honestly, who hasn’t?

The trouble with these kinds of meetings is that while all of these challenges may be true to some, they’re rarely true for everyone on the team. This disconnect can translate into a lack of focus among the team, which, ultimately, will make your team feel discouraged and unmotivated to participate in retros again in the future.

So what can we do to avoid this disconnect?

The answer is: data.

In the agile methodology, we often refer to data as the source of truth. By coming prepared with retrospective data that the team can analyze collectively, everyone gets a shared understanding of facts that frame each participant’s perception of the events, which, in turn, allows the team to determine and focus on what is objectively true as opposed to subjectively true for any given individual. Perception becomes reality.

Retrospective experiences tend to fall somewhere on this scale of two very polarizing outcomes:

Generally speaking, those with little to no predetermined data will fall on the more argumentative side, whereas retros in which facilitators are prepared with data to discuss with the team will often fall on the more successful side.

By bringing the team’s attention to one source of reality (aka data), participants will focus on the clear topic at hand and leave feeling accomplished with their time, empowered to improve with action items, and secure in the power of retros, which ultimately will help them feel excited to participate again in the future.

So how can we determine what type of retrospective data collection is relevant to each retrospective?

According to Esther Derby in her course, Powerful Retrospectives, there are two main types of data that can be utilized to make your retrospectives more...errr...powerful.

  • Objective or Hard / Quantitative Data
  • Subjective or Soft / Qualitative Data

To better understand which type of data is most fitting for your next retro, let’s explore some specific examples and use cases of both.

Objective Data, which is more commonly referred to as Hard or Quantitative Data, is any information that can be measured and / or verified.

Objective Data is often viewed as the more relevant points for discussion due to their basis in fact. For example, one can argue whether or not they feel the 35 hours they spent on any given project was a reasonable amount of time, but not that the project, itself, took 35 hours.

Although using Objective Data can help your team stay focused on the most important topics for discussion, it can also prove to be challenging, because so many data points fall under this category.

Some helpful examples of Objective Data for an engineering team include:

Burn-Down Charts

Burn-Down Charts

Average Cycle Time Plots

Average Cycle Time Plots

Average Time in Status

Average Time in Status

Objective Data for the Business Team

Some helpful examples of Objective Data for the business team include:

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or colleague?

By asking this simple question to your customers, you can reassess your priorities and ensure that you’re improving your business and / or product in a way that’s meaningful to your buyers.

Churn Rate

How many customers do you lose each month?

Businesses lose customers for all sorts of reasons: leaky sales funnels, increasing competition, decline in relevancy. Whatever the reason may be, you cannot retrospect on a solution until you analyze the data.

Subjective Data, or Soft or Qualitative Data, encapsulates the emotional side of data. These points are often disregarded due to their subjectiveness, but are equally important to document and discuss because surprise, surprise, people are not robots and our emotions can sometimes affect our work.

Some helpful examples of Subjective Data collection techniques include:

Mad, Sad, GladHighs and LowsTeam Radar

Mad sad, Glad Highs and Lows Team Radar

Highs and Lows

Highs and Lows

Team Radar

Team radar

 

By this point, hopefully we can all agree on the importance of bringing solid data to your retros. Data will provide your team with a source of ultimate truth and a focal point for the meeting.

But is there any data that we might want to leave out?

To answer this, we will once again reference Esther Derby’s course, Powerful Retrospectives, in which she outlines a number of anti-patterns that you should be mindful of.

Anti-patterns are sneaky because they present as very attractive and easy to implement solutions for your retros, when in reality, they only escalate your current and / or dormant issues.

A few examples of commonly seen anti-patterns include:

  • Do not bring data that focuses on individual team members (at the detriment of others)
  • Do not falsely present Subjective Data as Objective Data
  • Do not collect more data than you need
  • Do not share data outside The Team without permission
  • Do not spend too much time collecting the data

Retrospectives, at their core, are used to help continuously move your team forward. When you fall victim to an anti-pattern, you can often break the precious trust among the team which will certainly hinder your progress. This, again, can also lead your team to begin to distrust and resent the retrospective process, thus rendering your retros ineffective in the future.

Retros are hard. We’ve been there. We get it.

But when you use the right data, they can be made a lot easier.

To learn more about bringing the right data to your retros every single time, check out the Ultimate Guide to Agile Retrospectives, your one-stop shop to running great retros. In the latest chapter in the series, Using Data Effectively in Your Retrospectives, you will find a comprehensive breakdown of Objective Data, Subjective Data, anti-patterns, data collection, and more so that you may master your retrospectives and the agile methodology.

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