Link Search Menu Expand Document

Agile: Retros

I teach that the most important phrase to remember about Agile is: “Inspect and Adapt”.

The “Inspect and Adapt” principle is useful at all time, and in all aspects of the software development life-cycle.

But, it has it’s apotheosis (which means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”) in the ceremony known as the “Agile Retrospective” or retro for short.

Purpose of a Retro

The goal of a retro is to identify areas for improvement

  • More specfically at least one concrete experiment that you can do over the next sprint
  • The next sprint is the time between now and the next retro

The concrete experiment has two parts:

  • Identify something you are going to change: either stop doing, or start doing.
  • Identify a hypothesis about how that will improve things: e.g. “If we start (or stop) doing X, then we’ll see good outcome Y”.
  • Identify how you will know whether Y has improved.

A Retro is not a gripe session

  • It isn’t an invitation for the “airing of grievances”.
  • Don’t sweep problems under the rug either!
  • If there are issues, it’s important to bring them up, and not just pretend that everything is fine
  • But, do so in a spirit that’s respectful, friendly, productive, helpful.
  • Focus on identifying what change would be helpful, and why.

Five Stages of a Retro

Whole books have been written on how to do Agile Retrospectives effectively. One of the best known is this one:

A successful formula for retrospectives that has been used by many practitioners is the following five stage formula, which comes from the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Dianna Larsen.

  • Step 1: Set the Stage: get everyone in the right frame of mind to be constructive
  • Step 2: Gather Data: just the facts at this stage
  • Step 3: Generating Insights: some further discussion of the facts
  • Step 4: Decide What To Do: make a decision
  • Step 5: Close the Retro: tie up loose ends, end gracefully

There are hundreds of formats for doing these five stages. One of the tricks is to change up the format so that the process doesn’t get boring or stale.

But, if you have only a few minutes to plan a retrospective, the “Hello, World” of Agile Retros is the Stop/Start/Continue retro.

Stop/Start/Continue: a brutally short guide

This is summarized from this source and adapted for use on zoom/slack/

  • The leader starts a five minute timer. & Each person should start typing a message in the team slack channel, but do not hit enter yet.

In the message, list things you suggest the team should “start, stop or continue”. Write as many as you can in five minutes; try for at least one in each category, but there is no upper limit (just a time limit).

* Start: [list actions we should start taking]
* Stop: [list actions we should prevent or remove]
* Continue: [list actions we should keep doing and formalize]

Then make a google drive document with three sections: Stop/Start/Continue.

The leader can copy paste things from each person’s observations into the parts of the Google Drive document, as each member of the group takes a turn reading out their items and breifly explaining them.

As the leader copies/pastes, if there similar items, group them together.

At the end of the discussion, set up a vote to decide which items are most important. Give each team member a set number of items they can vote for (usually three). They can vote by putting an X next to the items they want to vote for (This is called “dot voting”.)

Voters can put all three X’s on one item or spread them 2 and 1, or across three items.

Calculate which items got the most votes selecting the top few (no more than three), and keep those items as your area of focus for the next Sprint.

Review these focus areas at the beginning of your next Retrospective to measure their success. Incorporate any feedback into your next “Start, Stop, Continue” board.

More on Start/Stop/Continue retros