Retrospective in scrum — simple how to.

Everybody has their own needs, personal preferences or simple things they do not like around them. Some people can’t start working without a cup of coffee, others are so devoted to Apple keyboards that writing anything on any other keyboard is painful for them. From my experience, the smallest, daily things can be the biggest blockers for productivity. To find and solve all those little things we’re making weekly retrospectives.

What is it?

For all of you who don’t know what retro is - it is a meeting held at the end of an iteration (in our case once a week). The basic idea of it is that each member of the team answers the following questions:

  • what went well?
  • what went wrong?
  • what can be improved?

The outcome of this meeting should be some improvements. Team members should reflect on what they did and what should they change.

Retro is, in my personal opinion, the most important scrum ceremony. If done properly, one can take a lot of output from a very simple ceremony, quickly solve minor problems that disturb team members and start solving or even prevent major issues as well. I think that if you listen to people, you get much more than when you’re the only one to speak.

How does it look here?

We experimented with several different techniques and methods. Here are some of our adventures with scrum retros:

Case 1 — Weekly, Per Project Retro:
We experimented with weekly just-per-project retrospectives. They had a great impact on the speed of developing and solving technical issues, however, not all of us were there, e.g. our game designer wasn’t involved in them at all.

Lessons learned:

  • retro per project is a must have;
  • it lacks space for personal problems and needs;
  • people can feel omitted as not all department members are on the same development team.

Case 2 — The Weekly Retro:
Armored with previous experience we shortened per-project retros and added The Weekly Retrospective to our workflow. We started with basic 3 columns with self explanatory titles — ‘Good’, ‘Bad’, ‘Change’. Anything that you remember happened through last week and was good — put on card and stick in ‘Good’ section. Want something to change? Guess where you can put your card 😉.
The 3 column way is fairly easy for everyone. It can be adapted very quickly and have huge influence for first three times but after that it gets boring. People know how to write cards and if you will try it my guess is that there will be more and more cards in the ‘Good’ section and less in ‘’. Which is good, right? Well, yes and no. It’s great that your team is happy, but if you want to grow you need to experiment, you need to change things around.

Lessons learned:

  • do retros and make improvements;
  • make everyone involved and listen what they want to share;
  • small and simple changes often have a great impact on overall satisfaction;
  • making retro the same again and again == boredom.

Case 3 — The Weekly Retro with a twist!
To avoid getting in the same loop as before, currently, we are experimenting with different approach to retro every 3–4 weeks. It is enough time to get comfortable with new convention and not to get caught in the same mindset on each meeting.

Lately, for variety we were using A Fat Guy. You might know it as ‘Start’, ‘Stop’, ‘More’, ‘Less’, ‘Continue’. We renamed it because instead of columns we are using a circle, divide it in five, add some little hands, legs and head so it looks like an humongous men. It might look more or less the same as our previous technique but it makes people think differently. When we did this for the first time ‘More’ and ‘Continue’ parts were full. E.g. ‘More code review’ — ok, so how we can get more of it? Maybe we can do this? Maybe like that? Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Lessons learned:

  • change is a perfect solution for escaping boredom;
  • experimenting is fun;
  • different types of retros might give completely different output from the same people.

Why does it work?

The awesome thing about awesome people is that sometimes you just understand how the things work because all of you want it to be that way. Here are some ground rules that were never mentioned but we are sticking with them.

  • There are no stupid cards — you can write about anything you want. Really. If you feel the need that is the place and time to ask or tell about something. And even though it was never said out loud somehow everyone got it right away — which is awesome! ‘My Mac is kicking me with electricity’, ‘Mac shortcuts are annoying’ — 5 minutes, new charger and simple keyboard switch saves unlimited amount of time and nerves.
  • Mostly work and team related issues — most of the cards are kept work related, but not all of them. ‘Get Tricky Towers on PS4’, ‘Ice-skating tomorrow’, ‘Let’s choose family for a Charity Package’ — that’s some of our last month cards that we brought to life.
  • Honesty and responsibility — if you would work in DaftMobile for a week the thing that you would catch quickly is that everyone cares for each other. There are no unanswered questions and everybody try to help each other or share their ideas if any. Same goes here.

Is it worth the effort?

You bet it is. It’s 30–60 minutes a week, the atmosphere is great, you can focus everyone’s attention on a subject you need. Doesn’t matter if you do scrum or not — talking and sharing with each other is a base for an amazing team and working experience.

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