Resolving To Be Better (A New Year Retrospective)

3 minutes

This is really a sister post to A Christmas Retrospective I shared at the end of last year.  That one was about how to ask for help with a particular problem.  This time it is much more traditional in that it is team focussed and is to do with reviewing how good our habits are.

In many cultures, New Year is a time people think of thinks like New Years Resolutions.  Whether or not you or your team members all practice this tradition, it is still a recognisable ritual in many place.  You can use anything that could be viewed as a ‘new start’ to focus re-set for a team, but New Year has been my favourite for as long as I can remember!  Other things that could trigger a ‘new start’ might be:

  • a new team member joining (especially a new scrum master)
  • an office move
  • or a big change in the direction of the product you are working on

In the UK people tend to have longer breaks over Christmas.  This means the iteration spanning that holiday can often leave hardly anyone working. I’ve found this leaves the first retrospective of the new year lacking metaphorical meat.

So, over the years I have developed some retrospectives to run after this winter break with a ‘New Years Resolution’ feel about them.  The aim is to help the team take a step back and examine how they feel about their working practices.

This allows the team to take a longer view and review their day to day habits to see what is still serving them well, and what they could do with revisiting.

These are the headings I used this year. Instead of ‘planning’ I used an over-arching title of ‘Working With Stories’.  This allowed me to include several specific practices to do with that.

Team Practices

From here on in, it followed a familiar format for many retrospectives:

  • We went through each heading in turn, using 2 different colours of post-its;
    • ‘Stuff We Do Well’
    • ‘Stuff I’d Like Us To Do Better’.
  • After we’d considered all headings we reviewed the post-its.  This allowed explanations and conversations to emerge.
  • While we were discussing the post-its I affinity mapped them, pulling similar post-its together.
  • For each heading we looked for one or 2 key things we could do to improve our working practices in that area.  These we turned into actions to take away.

A word of warning here – its especially easy in this particular retrospective to fall into the trap of writing an action like this:

“All team members to keep their standup contributions brief and to the point”

Assigning an action to ‘all’ is troublesome at the best of times, but here even the action itself is not specific enough either.  I have found that making your actions binary really helps: Did we do this? yes or no?

So I would re-word the above action to something like:

“We will raise our hand during the standup if we feel the person talking is going into too much detail.”

In his book Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership Geoff Watts tells a story of one team he worked with who used a bullshit buzzer. Whilst it may have been entirely appropriate for the team he was observing, I worry this kind of idea might be too confrontational.  Especially when people are learning new habits. 🙂   Don’t let that put you off though if you think it might work for your team.  Just look out for non-verbal communications indicating discomfort from the team members involved.  (If you don’t know what non-verbals are, or which ones might indicate discomfort, try looking at this talk I gave for Agile Tour London 2016.  Alternatively, try this book by Joe Navarro is great starting point.).

An even better action to record might be:

“For the next 2 iterations [team member x] will remind us after each standup to feed back to each other on the level of detail we each contributed. This is so that we will quickly learn and improve.  We will review this experiment at the retrospective on [appropriate date here]”.

This action allows the team to either nominate a “responsible owner” or to allow a willing member to step forward to help the team with this practice.  The practice is time-bound, which means that everyone is more likely to commit to doing it.  We have a time when we will consciously decide whether it is working or not.  This in turn means that if the experiment is successful, it can be extended further or  permanently.

By focussing on our behaviours in general, instead of just the last 2 weeks, we widen the definition of continuous improvement.  After all, nothing stands still, including our practices.  Some we stop doing because they are hard to do, others because they are no longer giving us benefit.  Some we keep doing, even though things have changed and doing them differently would give more benefit.  Or agree as a team consciously to stop them altogether.

You won’t know what you need until you look.

Helen.

 

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