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The sprint is over. The team is assembled. The working agreements have been read.
It is time to retro!
As a facilitator, choosing the best technique for the team and selecting a guiding topic to lead a meaningful discussion will set your team up for success in the next sprint. Are you just going to focus on the bigger technical aspects of the sprint? Will you focus on bugs? Does the team need to discuss organizational concerns? All of the above? Deciding what to discuss and how in your retrospective is no easy task!
Here’s the scoop though, not all teams benefit from every technique and not all retrospective activities work for all situations.🤯
Clearly a futurespective doesn’t make sense for teams that want to focus on the past sprint. While teams that need to focus on specific pain points (like psychological safety and engagement) should use techniques that help get to the root cause of issues. Similarly, if your team’s focus changes in each retrospective the techniques you use will probably vary as much as the topic.
So, where do you start? You can narrow down your technique options before each retro by asking yourself a few simple questions:
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these questions can help you pick the best technique for every retrospective.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Is it sweet? Salty? Savory? Spicy? Some combination of all of the above?
Thinking about that first bite, it is probably delicious and it's hard to imagine a time you wouldn’t love it.
Now think about the 100th bite. The 1000th bite. The 10000th bite. Not quite as tasty when you are only eating one thing.
The same rule applies to retrospectives. If you are taking the same approach to your retrospectives every time. The quality of the conversation is affected.
You might be asking yourself, aren’t retrospectives supposed to be about whatever the team wants to discuss?
But as a facilitator, you can help your team experience different flavors by setting different goals for your retrospective for the team to reflect on.
Let me be clear though, it is not the job of the facilitator to come up with specific discussion topics. The team should always feel comfortable discussing the specific items that matter most to them. What I mean by focus, is creating a guiding question or idea for the team to use in later ideation. By leading retrospectives with different themes and foci, participants can have the space to innovate and think critically about the systems affecting the team and why they are all retrospecting.
Example goals could be:
The sky and your team’s creativity are the limits. Holding retrospectives that have specific goals for the discussion helps your team get out of the familiar comfort of the same retro discussion and spice it up!
Thinking about the timing and cadence of your retrospectives is the first step in choosing a technique. Depending on your creativity level, retrospectives can be used in infinite ways. (My favorite so far has to be the team that uses retrospectives as a way to evaluate which activities would help new facilitators get feedback.) However, if you are using the same retrospective technique too often, you run the risk of talking about the same issues in every retro.
Too much of a good thing
If you are running two or more retros a week then your retrospective technique is to pause retrospecting and give the team more time to work on action items.
Let’s look at Avery, a new facilitator with a new team on a new project.✨
For Avery, running the popular Start Stop Continue technique won’t bring much success. After all, what is a new team going to stop doing? Considering this team has never worked together before, focusing on a futurespective technique, such as Sailboat or Wishes Risks Appreciations and Puzzles provides the structure for a more engaging conversation that everyone can contribute to equally.
However, if we fast forward and Avery is now running her 50th retrospective with the same team, the team will have action items to examine, systems that may need refining, or holiday plans to schedule around. The team’s circumstances have changed.
Avery knows what the team has been working on, and she knows a particular method of debugging that should be examined closer. In this case, a Start Stop Continue or Starfish retrospective would be great technique options for the team.
Understanding when the last retro occurred and what was discussed will help you decide if you need to go further into one problem that the team has been working on consistently, or if you need to go in a different direction and get the team to consider larger goals.
Now, it’s time for some honest reflection. Take a deep breath and consider your answers: where are you in the project? At the beginning? Near the end? Somewhere in between? Or, frankly, do you even know? Are you sure?
If you’re working towards a very specific goal, you probably have a pretty clear straightforward answer. On the other hand, if you are part of a more established team that’s juggling multiple projects and deadlines and they’re all at different stages, your answer may not be as concrete.
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these scenarios.
Taking time to focus on the specifics of a project is important. Retros in these cases can help you look at the effects of the team’s systems and processes. Think of it as reverse engineering. You already have a system in place, now look at the problem. However, not all techniques work for all parts of the project.
The beginning of a project is an exciting time. Consider techniques that help your team run a “futurespective.” Futurespectives come in all shapes and sizes, but one of my favorites is Sailboat. This technique helps your team look forward and anticipate possible obstacles and take a proactive approach to anything that might slow the team down.
If you are in the midst of a larger project -or just in the middle of your fiscal quarter- look at techniques that help your team examine what is happening, and what is in the team’s sphere of influence and examine how the team can pivot to improve, such as Lean Coffee.
When the end is near, it is time to dig deeper. Look for techniques that will help your team reflect on the entire experience and help team members learn what lessons and actions can be taken into the next project.
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