It’s the end of the year, and that’s always a good time to reflect back. So how about if you do a very different retrospective this time, and instead of focusing on improvements talk about some great things which happened this year. What did you change which helped you to be a better team? What made you happy? What do you appreciate about your colleagues?
You can say it directly, print the cards, use the images in a Mural template where people can fill them in, or design your own cards. It’s not about the form, nor tool. It’s raising the positivity of the space, showing others your appreciation. Great teams do that regularly. Great organizations do that across the teams and departments. You might be one of them, and this suggestion would feel like nothing new. However, too many organizations are busy to stop for appreciation. They need to deliver, work faster, achieve the goals. If that feels like your environment, break your habits, and introduce more positivity, more appreciation. Not only before the end of the year but regularly. It will bring the results soon.
To my huge surprise, I realized that the concept of failing fast and learning from failure is difficult for some people to accept. They always feel the frustration when I say that ScrumMaster needs to feel comfortable to let the team fail so they can learn. I wrote about it here a few times, so you most likely know it, but the goal of a ScrumMaster is to make teams self-organized. They are not their assistant nor their mothers (as it might end by being dependent on a ScrumMaster), they are not their managers (the team is self-organized, fully responsible for their decisions), ScrumMaster is a coach, facilitator, helping the team to take ownership and realize they can solve most of their problems by themselves. And with every decision you take, there is a responsibility going hand in hand, and risk that you might fail. It is OK to fail if you learn from it. So ScrumMasters are not responsible for preventing failure, but for making sure the team will learn from it and figure out how are they going to work differently next time, so it will never happen again. And that’s very different from what the project managers have in their job description. And here is why – Project Manager is responsible for making decisions, ScrumMasters is not. It’s either the Development team (for how are they going to organize themselves to maximize the value towards the Sprint Goal), or Product Owner (for maximizing the value, prioritizing the backlog, and achieving the overall product success including the return on investment).
Agile is about safety to experiment and learning from feedback. In the VUVCA world, you never know what is the right functionality which will multiply the value and success. You need to inspect and adapt. Learn from failures. Be ready to respond to changes and be flexible to shift the direction based on feedback. Scrum has it all. Short Sprints which make it safe to fail, Retrospectives which ensure fast learning, Sprint Reviews which create a platform for frequent customer feedback, and Product Owners who take care of maximizing value and return on investment. It’s one thing to read it, and another to live it. What happens in your body if you hear “Your Sprint just failed.” Is it closer to the panic and looking for who to blame or is it closer to being curious and excited to search for improvements? It’s a simple question that indicates the level of agility. Failure is a good thing. All you need to do is learn from it.
Retrospective is the crucial part of your success. Through Retrospective you implement Inspect and Adapt principles. Through Retrospective you learn and become better team, product group, and organization. So let’s have a look at a few tips about how ScrumMasters (but not only ScrumMasters) can make Retrospective great.
Understand the goal
The typical mistake in the beginning is that teams and ScrumMasters use the Retrospective only to discuss issues or complaints. The goal of the Retrospective is not to say what went well and what went wrong, but to improve. And in order to improve, you need to get clear list of action items actionable next Sprint as a result of every Retrospective. The frustration of some teams is coming from the fact that they can’t solve everything right away. ScrumMasters shall help them to find the first step and make sure they are able to make it. Then celebrate the success and find a next improvement. Don’t take too many action items. One, two or three are more than enough. Quantity is not the quality here.
Find root cause, don’t solve symptoms
Another tool which can help you to make your Retrospective great is root cause analysis. Too many times you spent time and energy in solving symptoms. The particular issue would got solved, but soon another two emerged. It’s never ending. Instead, whenever team identifies any problem, ask them to investigate it a little, why is it happening, when, who gets involved, what is the impact of it, what can cause it, etc. Once you understand it, in most of the cases you realize that the root cause is somewhere else then in the identified problematic situation. And more than that, once we address it, it solves many other issues we’ve been facing and didn’t know what to do with them.
Change the format of the Retrospective
Sometimes, even if you facilitate it right, teams are saying that they don’t get enough value from the Retrospective anymore. It used to be great but now we somehow lost the focus and it’s not that useful anymore. People are not coming with new ideas; it’s hard to identify any improvements. It usually happens when ScrumMaster uses the same format of the Retrospective all the time – i.e. “plus/delta”, or star with “Start, More, Less, Stop and Continue”. It became a routine. So here is the hint how to make your Retrospective again engaging. Every time you facilitate Retrospective, make it different. Use a different format, ask different questions. My favorite question is “What made you smile last Sprint? / What do you want to change?” You would be surprised like such a small difference change the energy of the meeting, brings different attitude and helps you make the whole retrospective in more creative environment. Once people get used to it, involve the whole team in designing the retrospective format.
If you find it interesting and want to know more, you can watch my conference talk on Agile Retrospective below or get my new book The Great ScrumMaster.