Repetitive Retrospectives are Repetitive

Let me just say this up front:

I love Sprint Retrospectives.

The Retrospective is easily my favorite event in Scrum, and it’s not even close.  It’s also the hardest one to get just exactly perfect.  I make no claim to having done this – there is always room to improve, after all – but I try very hard to get as close as I can.
There are two problems I have seen with keeping Retrospectives interesting:

  1. Repetition
  2. Anchoring

The “classic” Retrospective says we should put three basic questions to our Scrum Teams:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What can we do better?

All great questions, and we should be asking them.  Kind of.  Asking exactly those questions at the end of each iteration, however, becomes stagnant in a hurry.  When the team knows exactly what to expect in every Retrospective, it becomes easy to sort of tune out…

Okay… it’s time to come back to this.

I have two approaches to Retrospectives, and I use them both freely.  The first is to take the so-called “classic” and find different ways to approach those same questions.  Put some kind of fun spin or theme around the entire activity and talk about the good, the bad, and the other.  Make the activity fun, get people drawing pictures, get the team on their feet and moving around.  Encourage some kind of kinetic energy in the room rather than just everyone sitting around writing on sticky notes and not talking.  Anything you can do to mix things up, even slightly, and bring a sense of fun is a good thing.  Make everyone a super hero and talk about what their powers are and what they are fighting?  What’s the villain’s weakness?  What’s the scene that plays after the credits roll in their summer blockbuster?

Sometimes, however, I throw out all inspect and adapt activities during the retrospective.  Go ahead and yell at me that this isn’t Scrum.  You’re not wrong, and the Scrum Guide is pretty clear about that.  Sometimes, though, it’s important to just change the energy.  If the team has been going all out and you can sense that there’s some burnout, for example, it’s a good time to do something that is just fun and silly and leave the serious work behind for an hour.  Play a game, do some kind of team-building exercise, or just take the team out for ice cream and chat!  Break up the pattern, and let your team focus on something else for a bit, and watch their energy change.

I have one activity that I do with each of my teams once per quarter, just because it’s fun and gets them talking to each other about something other than work and laughing together.  Sometimes at my expense, and that’s okay!  I absolutely have a rule that I won’t ask the team to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, and if there’s something incredibly silly, I am the first one to do it!  Try it, it’s actually a great way to build trust with your team!

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About Heath

Scrum Master. Software Engineer. Writer. Musician. Craft Beer Aficionado. Jeopardy! contestant. Not necessarily in that order.