Make Agile Retrospectives Fun Again

How a small twist to the retrospective meeting made it personal and enjoyable.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Have you attended agile retrospective meetings where everybody comes and starts writing their thoughts under the two categories — what went well ? and What could be improved ? (sometimes people split them under various ceremonies as well). After they have written the points down on a sticky note and pasted them on the board, the retrospective start. You get a chance to read and explain your points. The team then discusses the points (some healthy argument happens) and creates action points for them. When everyone has read their points, the retrospective ends. Textbook.

As a product owner, I was attending retrospectives like this for a long time. Not that it was not effective. The team was sharing their thoughts and ideas for improvements. They were gracious enough to congratulate other team members for a job well done. We were having healthy discussions over things that went wrong. But there was something missing. It was all too impersonal (sometimes harmonious and in some cases chaotic).

The retrospective had become too business-like. Lots of personal incidents, learning, anecdotes and observations were brushed aside in favor of finishing off the retrospective. Some people had gotten into the habit of writing a single point in both categories and move on. This meant that some people were speaking a lot (Scrum masters and Product Owners the main culprits), and some people were surfing their phones a lot. The new joiners were mostly quiet.

I proposed a new way to do the retrospective. The idea was very simple. At the beginning of the retrospective, each team member (including Scrum Master and Product Owner) was given 3 minutes to share the following:

  1. Their general personal experiences over the course of the iteration.

After the 3 minutes from each member, we could then start sticking notes and discussing the points.

When this was introduced in the next retrospective, there was a marked improvement in the participation from the team. A lot of hidden experiences and stories came tumbling out. People listened to each other with a lot of interest and empathy. The atmosphere of the retrospective was suddenly more relaxed and enjoyable. The new comers had a lot more to say than otherwise sitting quietly.

People started to look forward to retrospectives, even the new-joiners. An important lesson that i learnt here is that no matter how well intention you are with a process, it fails when the human and personal touch is neglected.

So, lets make our retrospective more personal and fun.

PS : Nominate someone each time to bring some croissants or chips for the retrospective :-). People love it.

Business Analyst by profession. Dreaming big. Exploring world viewpoints. Follow Chelsea FC. Japanophile. Love Sushi.