Factors For Effective Retrospectives.

Factors For Effective Retrospectives.

Hand Drawn Chart Saturday

Facilitation skills, choice of technique and the tools that are used, in that order, will impact the effectiveness of retrospectives. The degree of team distribution will cause the degree of importance of the attributes to vary. For instance, distributed teams will have to lean on communication tools to a greater extent.

At their heart, all retrospectives are a social exercises. Even in well-honed teams it is an ongoing challenge to keep team member talking and sharing in a manner that will convey information without damaging relationships. As Naomi Karten pointed out in her interview on the Software Process and Measurement Cast, there are a relatively high proportion of introverts in IT who need help in order to be drawn out. The facilitator’s skill at getting people to interact is more important as the degree of team is distribution increases. In distributed teams, the facilitator needs to find ways to make the team’s interactions more personal. For example, making sure everyone talks and that location bias does not set in. An interesting technique I have observed was to pair individuals from different locations as homework for the retrospective. In one example, she asked each pair to collaborate and identify five ideas to improve collaboration, while another time (with different sets of pairs) she asked the groups to do a five minute overview on an upcoming local holiday (ask me about Holi…). The goal was to make sure the locations were talking and that the whole team was exposed to the different cultures on the team which fosters deeper communication.

As we have seen in previous Daily Process Thoughts, different retrospective techniques will evoke different responses from participants. For example, a timeline retrospective will focus on events. A classic list generation-based retrospective will focus on process. Picking the right type of retrospective gives a facilitator the chance at opening up the team. The technique selected for a retrospective is generally a balance between the focus and technique satisfaction (i.e. how many times you have used the technique as over use causes boredom). When coaching long-term projects, I often teach the team a variety of techniques and then let them select the technique that they want to use. Remember to add techniques or remove techniques from the team playbook as the situation warrants.

Every retrospective requires some sort of tool. Tools can be a simple as a white board and markers or as complex as mind-mapping and screen-sharing software. When a team is distributed, screen sharing and teleconferencing/videoconferencing tools are necessities. The combination of technique and level of team distribution will influence tool selection. Likewise, tool availability will influence technique selection. For example, I use a mind mapping and screen sharing when executing a listing retrospective for a distributed team so that each location can see the ideas and participate. If I could not use those tools, I would have to find a different approach. Generally the technique defines the toolset, but that is not always the case. When everyone is in the same room sticky notes are great but when team members are teleconferencing into the retrospective electronic are required.

Facilitation skills, retrospective techniques and tools are all important for an effective retrospective. The technique is driven by needs of the team. The coach/facilitator needs to be aware of the needs of the team. The proper tools facilitate the technique. If they are not available, pick another technique. However once the retrospective begins, facilitation skills are always the most important factor. Even with the best technique and tools, retrospectives are all about the people.

Daily Process Thoughts:  Retrospective Theme Entries:

Retrospectives: A Basic Process Overview

Retrospectives: Retrospectives versus a Classic Post-Mortem, Mindset Differences

Retrospectives: Obstacles

Retrospectives: Listing Techniques

Retrospectives: Non-listing Techniques

Retrospectives: A Social Event