The Retrospective Handbook by Patrick Kua

The Retrospective Handbook

One of my colleagues at ThoughtWorks published his first book last year called the Retrospective Handbook. It’s a great tool for people thinking about facilitating or wanting to hone their skills facilitating Agile retrospectives.

You can buy it here on Amazon or on Leanpub

I thought it was great… I’ve listed out here some of the things that the book covers that I really liked.

  • The right context for Retrospectives
    • The effect that team dynamics and environment have on the success of a retrospective
  • Lots of practical advice
    • How to prepare and set up a retrospective. Right down to the kinds of pens and paper best to use.
    • Lots of examples of language to use in specific situations
  • The importance of independent facilitators and advice on what to do if thats not possible and a team member facilitates.
  • Great tips for facilitators
    • How to help achieve equal participation from everyone.
    • How to handle anti-patterns from participants
    • Importance of observing body language as a facilitator and realising that there are many more things to ‘listen to’ of you participants that just what they are speaking out loud.
  • A whole section on Distributed Retrospectives
  • Your job is not done once people have left the room. There are a bunch of necessary things that need to get done after the retro is over.
  • 8 Common retrospective smells
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Bringing Visibility to Retrospective Action Items

I’m a big fan of the Retrospective. I think it’s so important to take time to look back and reflect on how things have been going, and think about how to make things better on your team. There are heaps of different kinds of retrospectives for different occasions and to enable you look at your from lots of different angles.

Regular retrospectives will open up great communication between team members and make it easier to talk about issues and successes.

However, you can’t reap the full benefits of retrospectives if nothing changes afterwards. If the team feels like they are losing an hour of their lives to retrospect and then nothing happens they aren’t going to be keen to have one again.

Some things that I think are important:

  • Retrospectives should happen regularly. Every 1-2 weeks AT LEAST.  More than that and the feedback cycle is too long, the retrospective will likely take hours because so much stuff has built up.
  • Keep them energetic, change up the format often and get different team members to facilitate and take ownership.
  • Keep them constructive, follow the prime directive and ensure that there are action items that have owners and are achievable.

I recently joined a team that was feeling quite disillusioned with their retrospectives. They were every 3-4 weeks, and the same issues came up time and time again. Nothing was changing and the team was frustrated. On my second day on the team we had a session and everyone was grumbling before we had even started, that it was pointless. It broke my heart.

I felt like there was a massive lack of visibility to the items that had come up, no ownership and no follow-up.

So I got hold of the items that had come up and created a Retrospectives Action Items board that lists all of the action items, their owners and equally as importantly, which ones we have actually achieved so that the team can see that we are making headway.

This board lives next to the story wall where we hold standup so that we can talk about the items every few days, see progress (or lack there of) and provide a friendly reminder. (My crafting skills pale in insignificance compared to some of my past team mates, so sorry about that!)

  • Ensure the whole team can see the action items and who’s responsible for making each one happen.
  • Regularly bring action items up and check progress during standup, remove any blockers if necessary.
  • Celebrate the items that do get done.

So far this has worked pretty well. I already feel there is a better energy and things are changing as a result of our last retrospective. Next mission, get them to happen much more often!