Injecting some life into stale retrospectives

I’m sure all teams go through a bit of a lull when it comes time for the end of sprint retrospective.  We’re following the same format of ‘what went well, what didn’t go well and what can we try next time’ format partially because that’s how the team did it before I started here.   Everybody takes 10 minutes to write down notes, we stick them on the wall, I read them and we have a time-boxed discussion on each if necessary.

I’ve always been a fan of the ‘discussion without action is useless’ mantra so I started tracking ‘what we wanted to try’ in order to measure success and see if we were actually improving.  We would pick the top 3 items from the list and decide those were the top priority things we needed to change over the next iteration.

A co-worker recently suggested Agile Retrospectives by Ester Derby and I do plan on reading it this weekend but I came up with a technique I wanted to try in the meantime.  Sometimes our retrospectives end up turning into complaining sessions and ‘what didnt go well’ ends up being more like ‘this part of my job is hard so it sucks’.  I also noticed not all team members get involved at the same level as other team members and to make a long story short, the same ol’ routine is just getting stale.

So the big idea this sprint is to make it more interactive.  Instead of having the team write notes and stick them to the wall, we’ll go around the room and each team member will say 1 thing from the ‘what went well’ bucket.  That team member will write it down and the rest of the team can vote or agree on it.  That’s the easy part, the real reason for introducing this method is for the ‘what didn’t go well’ and ‘what to try’ buckets. The concept is that after each team member says something that didn’t go well, the team can vote or agree on whether or not it’s a valid issue or just complaining.  We’ll then immediately go into what we can try to make that ‘not well’ thing go well next time and stick it on the ‘improvement’ log we have posted to the wall if the team agrees it’s a priority.

Seems like common sense to me, hopefully it’ll bring back some life into the retrospective.