Agile Practice-How to make retrospective meetings effective?

After practicing Agile for a period of time, some teams think that retrospective meeting takes too long because it usually takes 2-3 hours. Moreover, the meeting takes form, and there is no effect after the meeting. How can we make the retrospective meeting effective?

Hashtags: #AgilePractice #TeamMeetings #ProblemAnalysis #RulesDiscipline #Execution #PDCA




1.Problem Analysis

It is mentioned in the Agile Twelve Principles: The team should regularly reflect on how it can improve effectiveness and adjusts its behavior. The purpose of a retrospective meeting is to help the team improve work, find obstacles, and deal with problems, so as to achieve continuous improvement.


The quality of the improvement plan cannot be guaranteed by taking the form of retrospect, and it would be impossible to execute the following links without the plan. Failure to implement, check, and adjust after the retrospect meeting will affect the implementation of the improvement, and there will be no good results after the meeting. In summary, if you want the retrospective meeting to be effective, you must have the following two conditions:

Feasible improvement items, that is, the quality of the Plan must be guaranteed first;

Improved implementation, which includes Do, Check, and Act. This is a complete process. If you want good results, you must execute PDCA.



2. Solutions

Combined with the retrospect process, we first need to ensure that a reliable plan is produced by doing the pre-meeting and mid-meeting parts. Secondly, after the retrospect meeting, the implementation, inspection, and adjustment of the plan should be made to ensure the effect.


Step 1: Do the pre-meeting and in-meeting work of the respective meeting to ensure the quality of the Plan

To ensure the quality of the plan, it is necessary to hold a retrospective meeting, which can be designed from two parts: before and during the meeting.

Before the meeting, we can implement it from three aspects: meeting design, data preparation, and meeting convention.

Meeting design: Determine the focus of the retrospective meeting. Our meetings have specific goals. What we should do is to find feasible solutions within a specified timebox (1-1.5 hours recommended). The process of the meeting is designed to ensure that the meeting is completed on time and the meeting has a good atmosphere so that everyone can participate actively. Such as meeting sign in at the beginning of the activity can make people concentrate on the meeting, and ESVP (Explorer, Shopper, Vacationer, Prisoner) choice can know people’s feelings. When collecting data, the event timeline and expression diagram can help the team to establish a common background for the iteration situation. Brainstorming is a good way to cultivate our divergent thinking and through voting, we can realize the participation and joint commitment of team members.

Data preparation: First, prepare the measurement data for the improvement in the iteration, which is prepared for the respective meeting of Check and Act. Secondly, we must prepare the measurement data within the iteration, prepare the data according to the previously confirmed retrospective focus, and the data must be objective and true.

Meeting conventions: The most important thing in formulating conventions is team creation, not leaders or managers talking. Let everyone participate in the formulation, in fact, to form a team’s commitment, so as to increase the effectiveness of the convention. The content of the convention is to ensure the smooth progress of the meeting, such as being punctual, not playing mobile phones, not holding small meetings, etc. The key to meeting conventions is created together by team members.

During the meeting, there are four aspects we need to consider: meeting leader, atmosphere creation, determination of improvement items, and end of the retrospect meeting.

Meeting leader: This is a very critical role, and the ability of the leader will determine the meeting time and meeting effect. The leader can be an experienced Scrum Master or a team member. When holding the meeting, the leader must be neutral. And he can’t give his opinions or participate in discussions. Because participating in discussion will make him forget his identity and ignore the control of process and time.

Create an atmosphere: the atmosphere of the meeting affects the feelings of team members and determines their participation and enthusiasm. To create a safe environment, we must ensure that team members can confidently say what they want to say. It is suggested that participants are team members and the Scrum Master. If the managers, PO, or other external personnel want to participate in the meeting, the acceptance of the team, and whether they trust each other should be considered. We should also create a relaxed environment, prepare snacks that the team members like, design the meeting well, and select the right leader to ensure a good atmosphere.

Determine improvement items: When determining the improvement items, the team should make a joint decision to ensure that all staffs are aware of it and form a consensus. Secondly, we should focus on selecting 1-2 items that can be implemented, and you can’t jump to success overnight. Finally, the improvement goal should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).

Ending the retrospective meeting: The end of the meeting is also very important. This is a very good time for team building. Team members can thank each other by sending thank-you cards to express their feelings, so that team members can understand each other. It is also important to clarify the improvement items at the meeting and identify the responsible person to prepare for the follow-up implementation activities.

Step 2: Do a good job in reviewing the Do, Check, and Act of the improvement plan after the meeting to ensure the effectiveness of the improvement implementation.

With a high-quality Plan, Do, Check, and Act after the retrospect meeting is also very important, each link is indispensable. The process of Do will be executed differently according to the content of the improvement. At the same time, adding some practices in the process of execution can improve the effectiveness of the execution process.

The way of Do is described according to three types of improvement items: rule & discipline, implementation, and obstacle.

Rules & Discipline: it needs Scrum Master and the team to repeat it again and again, and gradually form a unified working habit and way of the team. Such as timely update of work item status, not late for a meeting, etc.

Execution: the team needs time to execute, so it should be put into the backlog. For example, the improvement of team coding specification needs to develop a unified standard, and then all staff to carry out and track and check the implementation.

Obstacles: it refers to the things that hinder the team's sprint. It doesn't need team members to spend time to improve, so it can be put in the management list of Scrum master. For example, the PO prepares the Product Backlog and apply the team whiteboard before the planning meeting. These Scrum Masters need to communicate and cooperate with the external team and follow up on the progress of the action.

Check is the summary inspection of execution. It can be carried out in the iteration retrospective meeting where the improvement is implemented, or it can be set up separately. It is recommended that this process can be finished in the iteration retrospective meeting. In this way, the number of team meetings can be reduced. At the meeting, we will retrospect the improvement first. The team members can feel the changes brought by the retrospect to the team, and the team's improvement motivation and participation will be improved, so that everyone will have more expectations for the next retrospective meeting and will be more willing to continue to retrospect and improve.

Act deals with the results of a summary inspection. Successful experiences are affirmed and standardized; The lessons of failure should also be summarized and paid attention to. Unresolved issues that the team decides to commit to the next PDCA cycle to resolve at the retrospective meeting.

Summary: This article discusses the common problems of retrospective meetings in agile practice and solutions to improve the efficiency of the retrospective meetings based on PDCA theory.

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