Conjur is an organization that helps other companies balance velocity with compliance. They've created a software appliance that enables businesses to move fast in an agile environment, while still maintaining enterprise-level security. They work with large retailers, healthcare companies, financial institutions, and software companies
By Niki Kohari, Retrium COO
When I first sat down to chat with Brian Kelly, the VP of Engineering at Conjur, we immediately bonded over our obsession with continuous improvement. For Brian, retrospectives are the most powerful way to create a culture where, each week, the team strives to be a little bit better than the last.
For the team at Conjur, Retrium is helping them fulfill their mission of continuous improvement.
Brian first heard about Retrium through a friend and trusted advisor, who had pretty much tried out every tool on the market (and continues to try out every new one that comes out). Though we were still in the first few months on the market, Brian's friend saw real potential in what we were doing and just had to share our product with others. As Brian and I chatted, he made it clear, "when my friend recommends a product, I listen."
So of course, Brian immediately checked out Retrium because, having worked in Agile companies for quite some time, he was already convinced of the value that retrospectives bring to a team. He needed something that "just worked" and helped distributed team members really feel like a part of the process.
He had felt the pain of trying tools like Google Docs for retrospectives, which he described as "kind of a mess to manage." General collaboration tools just didn't spur the right conversations needed to get the root of issues on the team. Plus, there was no real flow to the information and everyone could see exactly what everyone else was typing. This can be both distracting and too influential, since it can pull the conversation in a specific direction early on in the process.
Once Brian tried Retrium, it was like it was meant to be! There was simply "no contest", as he emphatically stated more than once, "Retrium leapfrogs other approaches." When Brian used Retrium for the first time (at a previous employer), he saw the value immediately.
At the end of that first retrospective Brian had in Retrium, everyone he worked with was pretty much in love. One team member remarked that the product was 'pretty awesome', while another corrected him, 'no it's just awesome'. As Brian was describing Retrium to me, he joking said, "actually, Retrium is both awesome and pretty," since the product is super simple to use, intuitive, and nice looking.
As Brian and I talked more about continuous improvement (I said we were obsessed), we discussed his perspective on Agile. He believes there's an even greater need to look inward and reflect, making retrospectives essential because "they are the most powerful part of the development improvement process."
Sometimes people pay lip service to rituals or they become just something the team has to do, but this isn't the case at all at Conjur. Brian really wants the team to get value, so retrospectives aren't just a formality or a management initiative for feedback. They're a real opportunity to talk about what's going well and what's not going well and to celebrate, not only what work is complete, but how it's being completed.
At their retros, the team at Conjur discusses a lot about 'the how'. Brian and I had a good laugh when he asked, "when else do you get an opportunity to celebrate the flow of work? The team can see that they aren't working evenings, weekend, or cramming stuff on the very last day, and this is something important to them."
When Brian joined the team at Conjur earlier this year, he immediately recommended it. Even though Brian was bought in to using Retrium from the beginning, he still wanted to give the team the opportunity to see the value and chose the tool for themselves. This is what we all hope for from our managers!
Before using Retrium, the team at Conjur wasn't consistently doing retrospectives, so as you can imagine, continuous improvement was difficult to follow and measure. The team was open to giving Retrium a shot, and they took it for a serious test drive the first time they used it.
Brian recounted the first team retro at Conjur by noting that it was one of those meeting where by the end you hope it doesn't turn into some megameeting week after week. The team essentially talked about what went well and what didn't go well for the previous 6 months. That's a lot to talk about!
As one might imagine, that can take a while. After an hour and a half of catharsis, they had a plan and several action items plugged into the action plan in Retrium. Having a forum for this conversation, where everyone felt free to share and participate, showed the benefits of Retrium right away, but Brian was still fearful about the second retro because no one wants to have a meeting like that every week. How long would the second retro last?
"I was concerned that we were going to have to rehash a lot of things all over again because they had really been holding to that feedback for a while." After all, the forum was now open for people to speak up and have their voices heard. However, this didn't happen at all. In fact, the second retrospective meeting took just 15 minutes. Talk about efficient!
I asked Brian why he thought there was such a different outcome from his expectations, and he credited the actions list in Retrium for keeping the team focused and on track.
When the Conjur team logged in to start the second retrospective, they could see all the action items that were completed since their first retro, so there was no need to cover things in the past because work had been accomplished in so many areas already. The accountability of the checklist really spurred the team into action, since the plan was clearly laid out. It even gave them a great opportunity to celebrate the effort the team had put forth to finish the actions.
The value that Retrium could provide week-after-week was abundantly clear.
The team at Conjur continues to use Retrium every week to reflect and make things better. At this point, they've successfully delivered so many action items that Brian had lost count! They work on several action items per week, and that's kept their meetings short and on topic.
Follow-through and focus are just a few of benefits of using Retrium Brian mentioned.
Even more importantly to Brian, he likes using Retrium because it gives an equal voice to everyone. Teams have lots of different personality types, and many of us have been on teams where one person seems to dominate the conversation. When there's a bunch of stuff in a Google Doc, there tends to only be a voice for "the alpha-types." Brian sees the most value in giving a "voice to the quiet" because this helps create a positive and open company culture.
Brian loves many features in Retrium, but for him and his team the blurred text is a game-changer, a real wow factor for first time users. It's what really enables the quiet voices to speak up!
When team members create notes during the brainstorming stage, Retrium blocks out the text. This makes it so the team isn't swayed by the thoughts or feeling of any one member of the team. This feature directly addresses the issue he had using general collaboration tools, which got him looking for a specific retrospective tool in the first place.
As many developers do, the team at Conjur tried to hack the code to see the text. (We just love offering up a new challenge.) And yet, that only lasted one meeting; they really do see the value of having it there to spur honest and creative dialogue.
Want to have more efficient and organized retrospectives with your team? Try two free retrospectives in Retrium and see the value for yourself!