By Moye Balogun
Since Agile retrospectives are supposed to be organized, well-structured meetings, they are often run by a facilitator. The facilitator is someone outside of the group such as an agile coach or a retrospective specialist (Rose). According to Doug Rose’s seminar on Lynda.com, a book agile facilitators often use as a guideline is “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.” This book lays out 5 phases for Agile retrospectives: Start, Data Gathering, Insights, Decisions, and Closing.
1. Start Edit
The start phase of an Agile retrospective primarily focuses on setting team dynamics and making team members comfortable. A team that is comfortable with each other is likely going to be the team that is more honest about what ups and downs occurred in the project. The start phase is also where one wants the team to feel as if “they’re doing something new and different” (Rose). This comes about through activities, which can vary greatly. A facilitator’s activity can be asking the group to use post-it notes to write down what they wish to gain from the retrospective (Rose). These notes will be saved to be read at the end of the retrospective to see whether the meeting met the team’s expectations (Rose). Another activity could be using drawings of weather patterns, such as “a thunderstorm, rain, a cloudy [sky], and sunshine,” and asking the group to stick a post-it note under the weather pattern that they feel represents how well the last sprint went (Moon). No matter how they are done specifically, these activities should prepare the team for the more detailed discussions to come later in the retrospective (Moon).
2. Data Gathering Edit
The data gathering phase is where the facilitator wants to delve into the specific details of the sprint that just finished. The facilitator will once again use exercises in hopes of establishing the agenda. One common way is by using charts, such as the Starfish diagram (Rose).
With this chart (whose lines resemble a starfish), the team will pinpoint different actions done or not done in the previous sprint and what they want to increase, decrease, continue, discontinue, start, or stop doing. The purpose of the diagram is to show the team how they can improve in many of the even daily events of the sprint, such as stand-up meetings (Rose). Based on the feedback gathered from the Starfish diagram, the facilitator might move on to ask the team to develop some SMART goals (Rose). SMART goals are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Boxed” (Rose).
A challenge that presents itself in the data gathering phase is ensuring that all the team members understand the events that took place (Rose). To do this, the facilitator should group together the feedback to come up with a perspective that reflects each team member’s input.
3. Insights Edit
The insights phase is one of the most important of the retrospective because it focuses on what the team can do to be better, often by learning. The facilitator should point to the charts they have and ask the group for the connections or patterns they see. In this phase, the team should be gaining understanding of the challenges faced in the last sprint and finding what problems are common amongst multiple members. For instance, not just one person, but three people on the team feel as if the instructions in the sprint should have been more specific, then the team needs to take note and work to remedy this issue in the next sprint (Moon). Doing so improves the sprint process for everyone.
4. Decisions Edit
The decisions phase is also very important because it often ends up being the step most overlooked (Moon). Teams will have thorough, insightful conversations in the previous phases, yet not actually follow through with any of their planning (Moon). One way to ensure that this does not happen is by “creating very clear action items” (Rose). The team will break down the challenges previously highlighted, create action items, and then specifically plan out how they intend to fix the issues (Rose). Each group member should have a relatively equal amount of action items to focus on (Rose).
5. Closing Edit
The closing phase is the final phase of the retrospective. This is point where the facilitator will ask the group whether the retrospective met their expectations and if there were any issues with the meeting. Based on the team’s feedback, the facilitator will take notes and alter how the retrospectives are conducted in the future (Rose). The retrospective should end on a positive note and the team should be encouraged as well as left with the sense that they have been productive.
Moon, Lauren. “5 Steps To Better Agile Retrospectives.” Across The Board, 26 Aug. 2015, blog.trello.com/the-5-steps-to-better-team-retrospectives.
Rose, Doug. “Five Phases of Retrospectives.” Lynda.com - from LinkedIn, 4 Feb. 2016, www.lynda.com/Business-Skills-tutorials/Five-phases-retrospectives/175961/468238-4.html.