PW&WCBA – Ellen Gottesdiener – Improve Your Product and Process with Retrospectives

Ellen Gottesdiener speaking on Improving Your Product and Process with Retrospectives

“How we feel about projects affects how we perform on projects.”

The prime directive of a retrospective:

“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.” – Norm Kerth

A retrospective is a ritual in which the project community:

  • Reviews the iteration/release/project story
  • Harvests the collective wisdom of the team
  • Tells the truth without blame or judgment
  • Identifies what to appreciate and improve
  • Understand and forgives its failings
  • Relishes in its successes

“The insights gained from the retrospectives are the basis for starting again.”

What do we ask during a retrospective:

  • What did we do well that we might forget to do next time if we don’t discuss it?
  • What did we learn?
  • What should we do differently next time?
  • What still puzzles us?
  • What needs more discussion?

Retrospectives need to have structure to them, but also flexibility to move and respond to changes:

  • Readying – Set the stage – Have your team define success and create safety
  • Past – Gather data – Have your team bring an artifact of memories during the project as well as look at a project timeline
  • Present – Generate insights – Have your team identify themes from mining the timeline
  • Future – Decide what to do – Have your team do a change backlog session (creating a backlog of items to change and rank them)
  • Retrospect – Close the retrospective – Have your team pass around a celebration card session (where you write what went well about an individual) or open floor for apologies

Why Agile Scout likes Ellen Gottesdiener’s talk:

We especially like the activities that Ellen put together for the presentation. We learned that the team comes away with actions for change. It’s not just the head stuff, but also the heart.

Activities to have in a retrospective:

  • A timeline of what went well.
  • A board with individuals writing down what went well and what didn’t go well.
  • An opportunity board – Opportunities for change

A safety check with thermometer – How willing people are to be open and honest:

  1. No problem I’ll discuss anything
  2. It’ll be hard, but I’ll discuss anythig
  3. I’ll keep some things to myself
  4. I’ll let others bring big things up
  5. I’ll smile and agree with my manager

Retrospectives need to happen consistently and provide transparency for the team. This type of adaptive learning allows teams to learn on the fly as well as provide closure for the team. Retrospectives provide value to the team and builds community in the team.

Retrospectives could take 1-2 hours and needs a neutral facilitator if there are safety issues. In terms of whether the client should be involved, it depends on the environment. Make sure that you communicate to the client or product owner what happens in the retrospective so that they are prepared for possible (negative) feedback. Feelings count, so if there are safety issues, one needs to build in safety rituals.

Find Ellen’s presentation below:

Link to PDF Gottesdiener__Ellen__1_00

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