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How to improve your retrospectives

Improve your retrospectives

A retrospective is an important part of the scrum process and offers and opportunity to your team to learn and improve. It might occur however, that this meeting will be skipped for some teams due to not having enough time to finish work or because of disinterest from the team. Keeping the team interested and making the retrospective as fun as possible can really help elevate the team collaboration and get the best result out of the retrospective.

In this blog Jochem will show you how you can efficiently gather data from your team while also keeping them interested with different themes.

How we do retrospectives at Cloud Republic

1. Set the stage – Icebreaker

An icebreaker is a small part, usually at the beginning of the retrospective, that is used to get the meeting started. It will also help the team think more clearly and get in the mindset of the meeting!

It not only brings an element of fun and interactivity, it also helps bring a team closer together.

As a scrum master, you can also use the (virtual) icebreaker to quickly assess the team’s mood. See below for some examples of icebreakers you could use!

2. Items of the previous retrospective

Action items from the previous retrospective are discussed here. You check which of the defined action items are completed and what has been done to complete these. Examples of this could be to find a solution to a problem within the process.

In this part of the retrospective, solutions could also be shown to the rest of the team such as a short explanation of what has been done.

3. Gathering data and generating (new) insights

This is the step in which you gather information from your team about the outcome of the previous sprint, and how it went.

This can be done by asking each individual team member to write their thoughts about the sprint on a sticky note.

This can be according to a variety of sets of topics:

  • Good, bad, could be better
  • Liked, loved, longed for
  • What went well, what didn’t go well, what can be improved

Once every team member has written down their items, they will put it on the board under the correct topic. When everyone has put their items on the board, the team then sorts the items into similar categories. Note: they should keep the notes under the same topic.

After everything has been walked through (explained to the team what the thought on your note means) and they are grouped. It’s time to vote. it’s up to the scrum master how many votes can be used. Once everyone put their vote in, it’s time to see which item is the highest. This will then be used in the next step.

4. Brainstorming: Deciding what to do

During the brainstorming, the team will come up with potential solutions to the items that where picked out. This could range from an already thought out solution, to something that could be put into the sprint to investigate. It’s important to take your time with this, and make sure the team has a shared understanding of the item.

5. Action Items

When the team is done discussing the identified items, or the time for the retrospective is nearly up, ask the team to select which action items they will pick up for the coming sprint.

This team member will then be responsible for that action item. It is important to know, that this does not necessarily mean that he or she is the one that has to do all the work for it. They can team up with other team member(s).

Then in the next retrospective, when the items of the previous retrospective are discussed, the person that was assigned the item is the one who will inform everyone in the team about their findings, and potential solutions they might have.

How to improve your retrospective

Now that we have looked at the retrospective process, it is time to look at some lessons learned.

Just as many other teams around the world, we also had to start working from home and use online meetings for the retrospective. This change of environment came with some adjustments, as we didn’t get to see each other in the same room, or got to interact with each other the way we used to. This sudden move to a digital way of working provided some challenges for the team which led to the main topic of this blog:

How can we adjust and improve on the retrospective process, without losing the interaction and the contact with colleagues that we where used to when being in a non digital environment?

So how can we adjust and improve on the retrospective process as described above, without losing the interactivity and the connectivity that we have come to expect from the retrospective?

The best tools for retrospectives

These are some of the tools that I used to create a fun and interactive retrospective:

  • Create a retrospective board: Mural or Miro. These are free to use
  • To get inspiration for an icebreaker: Use this Icebreaker site
  • To get nice pictures: I always use Unsplash

You could use programs like Mural or Miro to create an online board which you can use for the retrospective. All these improvements below have been done using either of the two and it offers a great way to easily present and get together.

How to improve icebreakers

Icebreakers could be improved and made more fun by integrating little games, or questions about the team that they don’t know from each other.

Examples could be playing a game, just before starting, or asking what their favorite cartoon or movie was while growing up! The possibilities are endless. Most important to remember is to keep it interactive. The ice breaker should warm up the conversation among the participants in the meeting.

Tip: It’s important to spend a little time on the icebreaker. All you need is a couple of minutes for the team to disconnect and recharge from their ongoing tasks and start the retrospective with a clear mind.

How to improve the items of the previous retrospective

This can quickly become a serious and/or boring part of the retrospective, as there is a lot of talking involved, and not a whole lot of interactivity possible. I still like to keep this part fun by using stickers or gifs as a way to indicate what the progression on the previous retrospective item was.

However, it is important to know that this part can be a bit confronting for your team members as some items with your name attached to it (and thus your responsibility) cannot be done. This does not immediately mean that he/she is making a mistake. Assess during this time if the action item was indeed something that was important to pick up. If there was no priority behind it, and the sprint “improved”, it might not have been a relevant item to pick up.

Tip: A great thing you could do is use the buttons in Mural (shown below) as a way for the participates to show their appreciation.

How to improve the gathering of data and generating insights

Its really important to keep the category refreshing. Its okay to repeat some of the categories, but make sure there is some time between it and that one category is not use that much. Here are some resources you could use to get some ideas for a ways to gather data.

The first example is the superhero retrospective. This is a really fun way to do a retrospective. The questions asked during this retrospective are asked as follow:

  • What do you think went/was Super?
  • What do you think went/was Strange?
  • What didn’t we dare to do this sprint?
  • What went Bat
  • (bonus)What was something we where mad about/raged about (the Hulk)

With this retrospective, I gave the team the freedom to place the stickies where they wanted and to not read too much into the descriptions i wrote down, but rather what they felt. As there was an item we got “mad”/ annoyed about, they placed the hulk there as a fifth (and unplanned) section. This shows that the team was having fun while also thinking ahead during the retrospective.

How to improve the brainstorming

For the brainstorming, i usually reserve enough time for the team to come up with some ideas we can finetune during the sprint. What tends to happen is that during the retrospective (the gathering of data) the team might already go into solution mode. Teach the team to wait with the solutions until the brainstorm. It can happen that the item the team was discussing over does not even come out on top during the voting and therefore is not discussed during the brainstorm.

For the voting, I usually give them two to three votes per item (depending on how big the team is). If some of the scores are equal I’ll include the item that was a hot topic. I usually decide this based on if an item had a discussion on it or if the grouped item contains a lot of sticky notes.

Closing remarks

I hope that, after reading this, you see that retrospectives don’t have to be a dull moment, that sometimes gets skipped. Keeping it interactive not only makes the meeting fun, it also gives a better connection with your team and improves the quality of work together.

What do you do to keep your retrospectives interesting?

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