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Four Perspectives for Retrospectives

by on August 18, 2015

As Scrum Master or Agile Coach your job is to help the team work, and therefore you are to surface and remove impediments in daily stand-ups and retrospectives. Is that all there is?

Well no, or this article would be over right now. Depending on the situation of the team, it makes sense to point their attention to a specific aspect of their way of working. With these changes of perspective, it is possible to continue running interesting retrospectives and to keep a seasoned team on the improvement path.

For planning the next retrospective, I offer the following four perspectives on work. Choose one that was neglected recently, or one that people have trouble with, thereby steering the discussion towards the best chance of improving the team.

1. Efficiency: Impediments and Delivery

Smooth and efficient work towards a sprint goal is an obvious indicator of success for a team. Every moment of the day every team member feels whether they stumble and skip or make smooth progress. Without the feeling of progress, everything else — great team spirit, individual happiness zone, corporate benefits — is hollow.

Discussing the feeling of accomplishment may soon morph into a review of the team’s deliverable. Code quality, non-functional requirements, etc. may come up.

Example: A hidden voting (5-star or traffic lights) on the four dimensions of sprint deliverable functionality, sprint deliverable quality, work efficiency, and stress level. Or, check the Retr-O-Mat for ideas.

2. Collaboration: Team Routines and Rules

The next perspective on work is the way work works, as opposed to “how fast and smooth” in the section above. Many methods stress the visualization of intangible knowledge work through tools like task boards, avatars, or build monitors. These visualizations (or lack thereof) provide opportunities for reflection. Discussion-worthy are all kinds of process agreements like the way of applying the visualization tools, the team rules (such as a Definition of Done), how and when to hold meetings, and many more.

I like kick off a new team establishing the first ground rules and then updating them in the first retrospectives. And even for seasoned teams, my experience is that an explicit review of team rules is useful every now and then. Sometimes dissatisfaction is hidden under what looks like team consensus.

Examples: Set aside a retrospective to place thumbs-up/thumbs-down stickers on the taskboard to indicate what works and what needs to be discussed. Or, have the team rank all team meetings by usefulness, then discuss how to abolish/reshape the worst meetings and learn from the best. One could also ask people to mark all days in the past sprint they spent mainly in pairs vs. alone on their desks.

3. Why: The Purpose

A team needs, by definition, a common purpose in order to exist. (Otherwise it is just a group of people.) Usually the team coach defers the purpose thing to the product manager / product owner. However, it is well within the coach’s authority to help and challenge the product owner on setting clear goals and criteria for success. Even the customer might not be obvious, especially in teams providing services to other teams.

Example: Gathering data in a matrix along the lines of “which valuable things have we created / for which customer?” helps the team discuss their customers and priorities.

4. Who: The Individuals

Many thinkers on teamwork and motivation highlight the importance of the interests of the individuals. It might be useful to discuss team members’ motives every now and then, e.g., when a new goal is given out, team membership changes, or performance appraisals approach. I recommend to run this kind of retrospective infrequently, as motives tend to change slowly and will not surface new insights if run too often.

Examples: This is the field of moving motivators, Belbin’s team roles, personality poker, and other games that trigger discussions of what people prefer to do, and how they like to work.

In addition to personal motives, individual skills of a team member are relevant. Especially when knowledge bottlenecks occur, i.e., when tasks are blocked due to a missing expert, a retrospective discussing required and available skills should be in order. In addition to closing the immediate knowledge gap, the discussion might turn into a general review of your company’s learning initiatives. Are people satisfied with the development of their skills and with the support they receive in doing so? What can they do and what could the employer do to improve the situation?

A discussion of learning helps to highlight the growth/expert culture in your company in order to develop the employees and ensure long-term success of the team.

Other Models of Teamwork

Christopher Avery asks you to hold five conversations in order to build a team: about the purpose, individual motives, team rules, goals and performance, and the resources of team members. These conversations are facilitated through retrospectives according to the above four perspectives.

Lencioni’s five-layered pyramid of teamwork is also covered in the above four perspectives. His topics are building trust, surfacing conflict, deciding effectively, keeping agreements, and delivering results.

From → Agile

One Comment
  1. Thank you Jesco. I will keep this in mind.

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