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Retrospectives: Look Back to Move Forward

F1098e8609ae3448e4a01747d2d7184a?s=47 Jessie
February 21, 2017

Retrospectives: Look Back to Move Forward

Retrospectives are one of the most powerful tools in a team lead’s toolkit. They can help uncover hidden problems and blockers, improve processes, increase morale, and even make your products better. However, a lot of teams go through the motions of retros without really understanding the method behind the madness. They end up doing the same old “What went well, what didn’t go well” format over and over again, with diminishing returns.

It’s important to use the right tool for the right job - there are actually a variety of different types of retrospectives you can use, and each one has unique strengths and weaknesses. I’ll discuss five different types of retros you can add to the mix to keep things fresh. I’ll explain when, how and why to use each type of retro with your team, along with some tips on how to best facilitate the event.



February 21, 2017


  1. R E T R O S P E C T

    I V E S I N S P E C T. R E F L E C T. C O R R E C T.
  2. @mad_typist H E L L O I ’ M

    J E S S I E L I N K ! Director of Engineering, Twitter Former LivingSocial’er Former US Air Force Officer Certified Scrum Master
  3. @mad_typist W H AT I H O P E

    Y O U TA K E A WAY T O D AY • 5 different types of retros you can immediately start using with your team • When to use each type of retrospective • Why to use each type of retrospective
  4. T H E P R O B L E M

    T O D AY
  5. @mad_typist • They get stale • People do them

    but don’t understand how to get the most of out of them • They are poorly facilitated • Things don’t change/improve T R O U B L E W I T H R E T R O S
  6. @mad_typist C O M M O N M I

    S TA K E S • Facilitator goes in with an agenda or a pre-determined answer they want to hear • We collect feedback, but don’t identify action items • We introduce bias into the sticky note process • People read the stickies one by one • People stop doing retros, or only do them when it’s all going wrong
  7. None
  8. W H Y S H O U L D I

    D O R E T R O S ?
  9. @mad_typist B E C A U S E F

    E E L I N G S A R E … . • Icky! • Hard to talk about! • Difficult to understand • Scary
  10. @mad_typist R E T R O S C A

    N D O A L O T O F T H I N G S • Diagnose hidden problems and blockers • Determine root causes of a problem • Build team morale • Improve processes • Get employee buy in • Set goals
  11. H O W T O R E T R O

    L I K E A P R O
  12. @mad_typist I T ’ S A L L A

    B O U T T H E C L U S T E R S • Have your team take turns creating and summarizing the clusters for each category • Why are clusters are powerful? • What about the outliers? What if there are no clusters?
  13. R E T R O # 1 The 4 Ls

  14. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S Team fills out cards for the following categories: Lacked Longed For Learned Liked
  15. @mad_typist W H Y I L I K E

    T H E 4 L S • Removes the word “wrong” from the conversation • These are evocative words • First person perspective on events during the sprint • Helps focus on outcomes (actual and desired) Lacked Longed For Learned Liked
  16. @mad_typist H O W / W H E N

    T O U S E T H E 4 L S • Use the 4 Ls for a normal sprint (2 weeks), or release • Use this to diagnose root cause • “Lacked” is a particularly ripe category to find process improvements • Also useful for conferences, training, events
  17. R E T R O # 2 Draw how the

    sprint went
  18. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S • Hand out blank sheets of paper and pens • “Draw the sprint” • That’s it! • Intentionally broad direction - I usually tell the team “Whatever that means to you, go ahead and start drawing” • What happened, how did you feel about it? • Afterwards, take turns describing what’s happening in your picture
  19. @mad_typist W H Y I L I K E

    D R A W T H E S P R I N T • Picture really is worth a thousand words. And these are words you won’t get folks to say out loud normally. • It’s fun! • Learn a lot about your team and how they think
  20. @mad_typist

  21. None
  22. None
  23. None
  24. @mad_typist H O W / W H E N

    T O U S E D R A W T H E S P R I N T • Use this to break up the monotony, when things feel “boring” • Useful when people have been disengaged and/or not writing down much at retro • This is a retro that should be used sparingly • I recommend once a quarter
  25. R E T R O # 3 Timeline retro

  26. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S • Draw a timeline, with an arrow at the right end • Stickies represent events: • Good events • Problematic/bad events • Significant event • Once all the stickies are written, place them along the timeline approximately where they happened
  27. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S • Use colored stickies to represent the good (green), bad (red), and significant (yellow) events • If you don’t have enough colors, as an alternative, use the above the line for good events, below the line for bad, and then on the line for significant events
  28. @mad_typist W H Y I L I K E

    T H E T I M E L I N E • Easy to respond to - nice structure • Because it’s time based, it may catch things other retros won’t • Clusters happen by default • Tells a really crisp story about what happened
  29. @mad_typist H O W / W H E N

    T O U S E T H E T I M E L I N E • Great for sprint retrospectives • Can be used fairly frequently • Works really well for root cause analysis of issues • Helps draw out disconnects on your team - did we perceive the same event differently? Why?
  30. R E T R O # 4 Gratitude Retro

  31. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S • Each person writes down 2-3 thank you notes for other people on the team • No clustering required! Just go around the room and read out the notes
  32. @mad_typist W H Y I L I K E

    T H E G R AT I T U D E R E T R O • Helps build team chemistry • It feels nice to be nice to someone else • It’s okay to take a break from being critical and trying to fix things all the time! • Sometimes we take for granted that our teammates know we appreciate them
  33. @mad_typist H O W / W H E N

    T O U S E T H E G R AT I T U D E R E T R O • Great for sprint retrospectives • Should be used as a change of pace retro. • You want the sentiments to be sincere, so beware of overuse • Use this if the team has been low energy, non-communicative • Be careful using this if the team has open conflict
  34. R E T R O # 5 The Sailboat exercise

  35. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S • Draw a sailboat - this represents our team • 4 key metaphors here: • Wind in your sails - what drives us • Anchors - what’s holding us back • Hidden dangers - what’s lurking that will crash us • Promised land - where are we trying to go
  36. @mad_typist I N S T R U C T

    I O N S ( C O N T. ) • You’ll want a large piece of paper to draw your sailboat on (or a large whiteboard space) • Practice drawing these ahead of time, if you want your picture to be less ugly than mine
  37. @mad_typist W H Y I L I K E

    T H E S A I L B O AT E X E R C I S E • Identifies “big” things that are impacting your team • Helps re-center the team on the things that really matter • Can be used to root out long-running issues that have plagued your team • Powerful way to surface fears
  38. @mad_typist H O W / W H E N

    T O U S E T H E S A I L B O AT E X E R C I S E • It can be used for sprint retrospectives, but it is more useful when deployed strategically • Roadmap planning • When you want to “reset” a team • When you feel like there are large issues affecting your team that aren’t getting addressed in the more tactical sprint retros
  39. F I N A L T H O U G

    H T S
  40. @mad_typist R E M E M B E R

    : • Retros only work if you do them, and do them regularly • Insights drawn out of retros have a cumulative effect • Don’t wait until things are going badly! • Identify 2-3 things max to address each week • Follow up on your action items - commit but don’t be afraid to change/ rollback if the action item doesn’t work
  41. @mad_typist T H E S E W E R

    E J U S T A F E W E X A M P L E S • There are dozens of variants on these, plus other formats for you to use. • • Think carefully about what you’re trying to draw out, and then choose a retro geared towards surfacing those particular bits of feedback/reaction
  42. @mad_typist B U T W H AT A B

    O U T… . • Remote teams? • Teams that are extra large? • Cross-functional teams? • Etc etc etc?
  43. A N D N O W, A R I N

    G I N G E N D O R S E M E N T F R O M M Y O L D T E A M M E M B E R … …
  44. Kenny H. “You know, I came in thinking this was

    going to be lame, but it was actually pretty good!”
  45. T H A N K Y O U !