Notes from Real World Retrospectives presentation at Agile Peer2Peer Group
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Real World Retrospectives Notes

Here are the notes from the talk Sean and I gave at the Agile/Lean P2P Group on January 28th 2014.

Sean also gave this talk at [ConFoo] ( on February 28th, 2014

January 28th slides can be viewed on SlideShare. Notes as of that presentation February 28th slides can be viewed on SpeakerDeck and on SlideShare. Current notes found below are latest.

Real World Retro Presentation Notes

Jump To Techniques

Matt Campbell

  • This is my friend and colleague Matt Campbell
  • We both work at Desire2Learn –an online learning platform company headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario
  • This talk comes out of our work together –he was the scrum master for our team and I was the product owner
  • He couldn’t join us today –which is too bad since he’s much smarter and better looking than me. I mean – dude lifts.
  • If you could take a moment to say hi to him –that would be really great

Retro All The Things!

  • I love retros. I love being in them. I love running them.
  • I’ll admit I had to work to make sure this presentation wasn’t just 30 minutes of RETRO ALL THE THINGS!!!


  • Why Retro
  • Be Able To Retro
  • Have a plan to take a concrete action to make your work better though Retros

Working Agreement

  • At the end of this presentation you will have an action to take with you to do at your work
  • We will be respectful, not talk when others are talking and not be jerks
  • We will all participate and be present in this presentation
  • If anyone has a question, just ask.

Retros By The Book

  • Retros are a chance to review work and discuss changes. It is a key component to what most people think of when they talk about “Agile Software Development”
  • Esther Derby – Agile Retrospectives
  • “a special meeting where the team gathers after completing an increment of work to inspect and adapt their methods and teamwork.”
  • Inspect-Adapt
  • Inspect the past…adapt for the future
  • What do we Inspect & Adapt? Two things
  • Methods: Process, Technical Issues,
  • Teamwork: How we work with each other.
  • Having a retro is, in part, asking: What is our work culture?
  • Looking Back to Move Forward

Looking Back To Move Forward

  • Looking Back to Move Forward
  • Sounds like a propaganda poster
  • Other defn from
  • “retrospective (rèt´re-spèk-tîv) --a ritual held at the end of a project to learn from the experience and to plan changes for the next effort.”
  • “Holding a retrospective is a very old idea…It’s fundamental to discover, share, and pass along the learning from experience—something we also call “wisdom.””
  • “A retrospective is a ritual gathering of a community at the end of a project to review the events and learn from the experience. No one knows the whole story of the project. Each person has a piece of the story. The retrospective ritual is the collective telling of the story and mining the experience for wisdom.”
  • So retros aren’t new…we’re just using them for something new – writing letters to robots and politely asking them to do something for people
  • The 4 Questions -I don’t love these particular questions…but it is an important starting point
  • What did we do well, that if we don’t discuss we might forget?
  • What did we learn?
  • What should we do differently next time?
  • What still puzzles us?

Why Retro?

  • Textbook Answers
  • Improve Productivity
  • Improve Capability
  • Improve Quality
  • Improve Capacity
  • Best answer: Be More Awesome…Together
  • Retros are the heart of Agile
  • I think if you have iterations and retros – you’re agile. This is my Minimum defn of Agile. Everything else is decoration and needs to prove itself to be speed holes for your work and not introduce project drag
  • Iterative, Incremental Process Improvements
  • Validate, Validate, Validate
  • Experience-Driven Team Culture
  • The team learns how to improve themselves
  • Supports High-Performing Teams
  • Opportunity to share –making the implicit explicit -Cultivates an honest and open culture and –very importantly-trust…
  • By trust, I mean the emotional vulnerability to take risks and be wrong (thinking of Patrick Lencioni here)
  • Because you get to ask the question –What did we just do and how can we do it better?

How To Retro

  • The Starting Point

  • Working Agreement for Retros

  • We will be honest, authentic, and work for the benefit of the team

  • We will not be jerks

  • We have a shared value

  • We all want to solve a profitable problem, that is delivers a User Centered Design and is built with engineering quality and integrity –and we want to do this together, as a team. 
  • Just do it

  • Schedule Place & Time

  • Talk

  • Facilitator

  • Owns guiding the discussion and is more interested in the group’s success than including their own point of view. You need to be able to put ego aside to be a good retro facilitator

  • Over time -facilitator can move to the back of the room and let the group manage itself only intervening when they start to go off the tracks

  • The working agreement is essential

  • One tool that can help is the Retro Prime Directive

  • Great tool for baselining the working agreement for your retro

Retro Prime Directive

  • Retro Prime Directive comes from
  • Excellent starting place for your working agreement
  • PLEASE don’t feel you need to use it as written…if Retros are about anything, it’s about changing how we work to be more awesome
  • That goes for all of Agile – agile isn’t a set of checkboxes, it’s a process that’s focused on continuous improvement to how teams work

The Prime Directive

  • Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
  • Assume Awesomeness
  • The Best We Could With What We Had At The Time
  • That being said, the reason we’re having a retro is so we can do better and we’re going to talk about that in an honest way that is generous and kind AND authentic and real.
  • We won’t be mean. This isn’t a place for jerks.

Retro Reality Check

  • Retros rarely go the way they do in the books
  • We have found a lot of different tools to help make Retros Better
  • Today, I’ll take a problem-centric approach to sharing these tools
  • I’ll talk about a series of problems and share tools that can help you solve these problems.

Real World Retro Techniques

###Dominant Speaker

  • Problem

  • A team lead – such as a Dev Manager – doesn’t give enough room during Retros for others to speak.

  • This is different from dominant speaker, because they don’t have to talk that much to do this

  • Answers ALL THE THINGS: Ok – I’ll take care of that, That isn’t a problem is it? I think that? What we should do is…

  • Strategies

  • Try dot voting to select a topic

  • Then use small group work with the goal of each group creating an actionable item to report back.

  • Or try questions like What other ideas haven't we heard yet?

Leader stifles conversation

  • Problem

  • A team lead – such as a Dev Manager – doesn’t give enough room during Retros for others to speak.

  • This is different from dominant speaker, because they don’t have to talk that much to do this

  • Answers ALL THE THINGS: Ok – I’ll take care of that, That isn’t a problem is it? I think that? What we should do is…

  • Strategies

  • Talk to the leader - if that can be successful

  • You can try having a leadership-free retro

  • As the scrum master you can be a mirror and provide feedback to the manager

Quiet People

  • Problem

  • No one wants to talk.

  • Getting introverts to expose themselves to the social risk of sharing can be a challenge

  • Strategies

  • Use Post-it notes to get contributions from everyone

  • Rank from awesome-to-suck

  • Affinity Map

  • At the start of retro have everyone describes the sprint with one word

  • Once people speak they are more likely to speak again

  • Get everyone to put their toe in the water right away

  • Research shows that people who speak early are more likely to contribute to the meeting

  • Device-Free Zones – working agreement

  • No laptops

  • No phones

  • No pagers

Negative Retro

  • Problem

  • Retros aren’t sufficiently positive – turns into group therapy complaining

  • Strategies

  • Have a Positive (or Appreciative) Retrospective where you don't allow negative talk

    • And not “we’re really awesome at sucking”
  • Try asking the question “what can we do to change this situation”

  • Ask people to replace the word **can't * with the phrase I could do that, if ...

  • Use Circles and Soup

New People Don’t Talk

  • Problem

  • new people (new hires, transfers, co-ops) don’t contribute to Retros

  • Senior team members have lots to say and new members are quiet and don’t contribute

  • Strategies

  • Call out that all opinions are valid at beginning

  • You can try directly asking people for their thoughts

    • If you are attentive, you can see when people wish they could speak
  • Using Post-it notes and small groups works well here

  • Storming, Forming, Norming, Performing (Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development)

  • Retros are a great way to get from Storming to Performing smoother and faster

###Too Many Ideas!

  • Problem

  • so many ideas…can’t decide what to do…

  • Opposite of these other problems – what if everything is going great and now we have too many ideas

  • Strategies

  • Try using an Affinity Map

  • Or try a 2x2 decision matrix

    • Using effort verses payoff
    • Things that are low effort and high payoff should be tackled first

Story Time Retro

  • Problem

  • All talk…no walk

  • Retros aren’t resulting in incremental change and sustained team improvement

  • Strategies

  • At the start state that the goal is to leave with 1 actionable item for next sprint

  • Post the action at the top of your sprint board

  • Plan points for doing that action during sprint planning

  • Start the following retro with a review of that action

An Awesome Retro

  • Work The Board

  • Post-its by all

  • Rank from bad to good on the board – higher is better, lower is worse

  • Group issues together

  • Fill out an Insights chart – Start, Stop, Changed

  • Fill out an Action – list of actions to test next sprint

  • Track changes on your sprint board. If you use lanes, make it the top lane

  • Start by having the team create a list of possible topics

  • Provide a few minutes for clarifications

  • The team dot votes to select the items they want to discuss

  • Use Lean Coffee as the discussion model

  • The Scrum Master listens and intervenes to identify actionable items and directs a thumb vote

    • Thumbs up means I agree, sideways means I have an amendment, down means Disagree, but have a counter-proposal

Follow The Masters

What's Next?

  • Don’t Retro?
  • Set up a retro and try it out
  • Have a Retro?
  • Try a new technique
  • Have problems with your Retro?
  • Try a mitigation technique
  • We want you to have an action to take with you
  • I invite you to share your action on twitter with the hashtags #confoo #retro
  • We can learn from each other and support each other in working to be more awesome…together.

Other Ideas and Resources


This is a great site that helps you plan your next retrospective (I'm not even going to try to describe it, just check it out)

###de Bono's 6 Thinking Hats

###Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives

An excellent book that contains many ideas and tools for use in your retrospectives (download)