By Moye Balogun
A key artifact when finishing a retrospective is a “clear list of action items” (Rose). Action items are important because they are changes that should be implemented in the next sprint to remedy the problems that arose in the previous sprint. Action items should not be generic, but should resemble SMART goals in that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Boxed (Rose). The issue with action items is that teams often struggle to extract actual actions from the conversations they are having. There are 3 challenges that can arise when creating action items.
1) The Kvetrospective (aka All Talk, No Action) Edit
In Yiddish, “kvetching” is when someone is complaining with no effort to make their situation better (Rose). This can happen with a group had a sprint with many problems and has approached discussing them with a negative attitude. In this circumstance, it is the facilitator’s job to only encourage input that can result in improvement and direct the team to focus on potential solutions instead (Rose). This can be done through deliberate techniques such as how questions are worded (Rogalsky). Instead of the facilitator telling the team to write “what went well,” they can ask them to finish the sentence “[the sprint] was great because…” (Rogalsky). Then to get the negative feedback, but in a constructive manner, the facilitator can ask the group to write “What they would do differently next time” (Rogalsky).
2) Too Much Action, Not Enough Talk Edit
This challenge is the opposite of the Kvetrospective. Though action items are important, action without thought usually provides disastrous results. This situation usually comes about when a team can easily identify what their problems or challenges are, but are failing to understand why they are occurring (Rose). For example, in Doug Rose’s video seminar about Agile retrospectives he brings up the situation of a team whose task board was not up to date. Immediately, developers on the team suggested a task board software that could be viewed from numerous devices, show the task board history, edit changes, fix mistakes, etc. and the entire team was on board to download the software when the facilitator had to step in (Rose). The facilitator pointed out to them that they had yet to understand why the task board was not up to date (Rose). Eventually, the team discovered it was because team members were not doing their work in the same place (Rose). Consequently, the action item they created was for all team members to be in a shared working environment in the next sprint (Rose).
3) It All Depends on the Scrum Master Edit
This challenge arises when the Scrum Master decides to take all the action items for themselves. Though the team may not mind, this goes against the key Agile characteristic of having teams that self-organize. If the Scrum Master is in charge of delivering the action items, then the team is no longer responsible for their own improvement (Rose). Instead they are relying on the Scrum Master and will end up waiting on her to finish their tasks. This removes the creative liberty and shared responsibility the team should have over their own progress (Rose). To remedy this, the facilitator should have the Scrum Master not attend a few of the retrospectives (Rose). This will force the team to reflect amongst themselves and no longer rely on someone else to do all their work for them.
Rogalsky, Steve. “Running a Positive Retrospective (and Avoiding a Gripe Session) - DZone Agile.” Dzone.com, 3 Oct. 2013, dzone.com/articles/running-positive-retrospective.
Rose, Doug. “Create Clear Action Items.” Lynda.com - from LinkedIn, 4 Feb. 2016, www.lynda.com/Business-Skills-tutorials/Create-clear-action-items/175961/468254-4.html.