Dispatches from the WCBA Conference: Retrospectives
“Slow Down to Speed Up: Retrospectives for Improving Product and Process” was the title of one of the workshops I attended during day two of the WCBA conference.
Ellen Gottesdiener, Founder and Principal Consultant, of EBG Consulting tackled the subject of “Retrospectives”.
It was a great presentation and included a number of topics including:
What are Retrospectives?
“Retrospective – a ritual in which the entire project community comes together: reviews the iteration/release/project story (something which just finished), harvests the collective wisdom of the teams, tells the truth without blame or judgment, identifies what to appreciate and improve, understands and forgives its failings, and relishes in its successes.”
In a nutshell, it’s our chance to look back in the rear view mirror and learn from what just took place. The insights gained from retrospectives become the basis for improvement, both immediate and longer term.
Careful using terms such as postmortem (are you assuming you project is dead?)…
In order for a retrospective session to provide value, it must address 5 key questions:
· What did we do well that we might forget if we don’t discuss it soon?
· What did we learn?
· What should we do different next time?
· What still puzzles and intrigues us?
· What needs more in depth discussion and analysis?
When should Retrospectives take place?
The traditional practice for doing retrospectives or postmortems (if your project is dead projects) is at the end of the project. The problem with this approach is that on projects with longer duration the value and benefit of the retrospective diminishes as it is far removed from when most of the project activities took place.
Alternately, retrospectives can be done sooner than the end. For projects which have a set rhythm (regular iterations, regular releases, etc.) a retrospective session can be done at after of each of the repeating phases.
Lastly, you should also consider an ad-hoc retrospective as a valuable tool when you get caught by surprise by a project challenge or other significant unplanned event in the life of the project.
As with everything else that we do, retrospective must provide value in order to be worth the time and energy. Ellen explored the value proposition of this tool.
In a nutshell, retrospectives are a great way to harvest the collective wisdom of the entire project team by giving everybody a chance to tell the story from their perspective and to discover things that happened on the project that you did not know about.
Retrospective is a great method of free adaptive learning:
· Immediacy – doing the retrospective as soon as possible ensures the recent experiences are sharp in the team’s memory,
· Relevance – the learning is relevant because the team has a common vested interest in the project/milestone/iteration/release what just completed,
· Self-Direction – most of us we don’t like to be told what to do ->retrospectives allows the individual contributors to identify and choose what they want to adapt and change going forward.
Retrospectives that Work
A retrospective is a great community participation-based tool which works because needed change is identified, proposed, and implemented by the project team and not simply shoved down their throats by some executive who is disconnected from the day to day realities of the project.
· Use data -> how many stories we implemented as opposed to the last iteration, how many test cases per story, how many defects per function point, etc.
· Acknowledge individual feelings -> Remember that feelings do count!
· Have a pre-defined structure –since everybody knows that it will take place, it provides the freedom to participants to identify and implement change without fear or guilt.
A good structure for your retrospective session looks like this:
1. Readying – set the stage
2. Past – gather data
3. Present – generate insights
4. Future – decide what to do
5. Retrospect – close the retrospective (retrospect the retrospective)
Retrospective = basis for change – it’s really a very cheap, yet effective, change management strategy