Kat Crichton-Seager is the Head of Engineering for London-based ClickMechanic, a company that is transforming the auto repair experience for drivers
With over 15 years of experience as a software developer, Crichton-Seager is an active advocate for the value of agile to help teams grow and create new technologies and customer experiences. We spoke with Kat to learn how his team at ClickMechanic has become one Uk’s leading platforms and a finalist at Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2021 by using Retrium.
Kat Crichton-Seager: For me, retrospectives, and most of agile, are about tight feedback loops, identifying whether things are working or not, and then making a nutritious change to take the next step whether that's with the direction of the products, watching stories, or with your own processes and the evolution of those processes.
That feedback loop has to be very quick and easy and fast. Then you evolve your team into the optimum team for doing the particular work you need to get done. So retrospectives allow you to constantly review and analyze how that's working and make decisions about what next steps you can take to improve your workflow and how you deliver value to the business.
Kat Crichton-Seager: I can just go first thing on the morning when we have our retros. I can just choose a retro and set it up and get straight into the retrospective. Retrium saves me a lot of time. And I like the fact that it guides you through the steps. They are the steps I normally use anyway, but I could see if you weren't familiar with doing retros, it would certainly help guide you along. The timebox keeps me from having to look at my watch and nag people to stop the discussion to close the retro.
And focusing is useful. Online, you always have to find a way of dealing with dot voting tickets. In (online whiteboarding tool) Sketchboard, we'd grab a little star I could on things and drag them on, and they'd all be different sizes in different colors, and it would be a bit of a mess. And then the last you have to go around counting things up. Retrium makes that easier and cleaner, and the grouping is all much easier as well. Cause you can just drag and drop into the other groups.
Retrium makes it easy, particularly for remote teams.
When you're online, the more open tools are, by their nature, the harder they are to interact with. Retrium takes out the friction really. And with the friction gone, then it means you're not going to miss a retro just because you can't quite be bothered setting up for it.
Kat Crichton-Seager: Certainly, I think just the very fact that without the sort of the structure of a retrospective quite often meetings are just raised because people know they need to talk about things, but because they haven't really got a plan of how to talk about those things, the meeting just wobbles around. Everyone has their say, nobody takes any actions; nobody makes any decisions. It's just a wasted couple of hours. Everyone sort of knows a bit more, but that's it.
Whereas the retrospective structure is very sellable because it's very easy to see the concrete outcomes straight away. You don't have that sort of bottomless pit effect of chucking ideas into a vase and filtering them through and turning them into something that's actionable.
Kat Crichton-Seager: Remaining anonymous and the covering of notes helps in building the conversation. Obviously, you don't have [anonymity] when you’re in-person; it's a slightly different process. It's quite nice that you get a little more duplication because people don't think, “oh, that's already there. I don't need to write it down.” But you also get people thinking in a lot of different lines because they're having to think about what to say, rather than latching onto the first idea they see and think, “oh, that's related to that. And that's another other thing related.” We like to keep [notes] anonymous on the whole, I think it leads to a better set of stickies.
Kat Crichton-Seager: Well, I think the thing is you can't really do agile in a bubble or it doesn't really work very well. So the moment you start trying to deliver stuff for stakeholders, the stakeholders have to be brought on board and become part of the process. And that tends to expose people outside of the immediate team to some of the things that are going on. Initially, there's a fair bit of pushback against it because it seems like they have to do a lot more work, a lot more sort of engaging with developers in meetings and stuff that they normally just say, “oh, I want this, this and this, now go off and do it. And I'll see you in six months.” It's hard to work for the stakeholders, but ultimately after a fairly short period of time, usually, they tend to realize the benefits and the fact that they're getting stuff delivered straight away after week one, like getting their first bits of software out on the surface and usable and that soon converts people to retros.
And then once you've got that in place, those people tend to be working in other teams, and maybe you invite them to your retrospectives every now and then to get their input and share experiences of particular projects.
They see some of those practices and they start saying, “oh, well actually, maybe we should have the first retrospective in our team.” And then the next thing, you know, bit by bit, the business is retrospecting. Once people start to see the benefits, it's very hard to just stop.
Kat Crichton-Seager: I think it was very smooth. At that time we were trying various different tools, trying the sort of free trials of various things to see what stuck. Most of them kind of seemed very hard work to get going and get stuff happening. I found Retrium very smooth. It fits well with our default retro structure really well. I signed up, got everyone on board, there was no difficulty with people joining it. I did it in sort of 10 minutes and then we were all going and it felt pretty much like a normal retro.
Answers have been edited for clarity and length with permission.