Room for major improvements – Self-Learning-Organizations with Agile Retrospective

Learning as a team: lessons learned, respectively retrospective; a field which gets, from my personal experience, often not the attention it should and could get.

“We have there a slide we fill out when the project is finalized…” Is something I have literally heard and seen at clients I worked at. Sometimes the slides are just filled out by the (in the meanwhile “former) project manager and archived with the entire set of project documents. The organization moved on already to the next business opportunities.

The opportunity to look back and learn for the future on regular intervals is a major key for reaching high potential teams and actually also for a nice and fun work environment for everybody. Agile Retrospectives creates an approach and comes with an almost unlimited amount of frameworks and tools. Not only for agile pm! It’s one to one applicable into traditional waterfall projects.

The following aspects are building a foundation for a good and productive retrospective:

  1. Each session is supposed to be performed by the team for the team!
  2. Find regular intervals for retrospective-session which make sense for the team and the undertaken project (e.g. every two weeks one hour, or every week 30 minutes and every 3 months a larger session)
  3. Vary methods and even the person how is leading the session to keep it exciting and motivating for everyone
  4. Everyone should participate, here we need some “icebreakers” sometimes
  5. Build commitments for decisions been made and transfer concrete activities into the regular project work

Based on this aspects, we can build a general agenda for each retrospective, independent from scope and length:

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather Data
  3. Generate Insights
  4. Decide what to do
  5. Close Retrospective

Let’s create an example for an 45 minutes weekly Retrospective session:

  1. The chosen moderator welcomes everyone, mentions that they have 45 minutes time today to examine the work since the last retrospective. To get everybody involved quickly, the moderator asks each team member to describe how they feel about the recent days at work by describing it as a weather report (e.g. rainy, cloudy, sunny, etc.). Weather symbols (stickers) can be prepared beforehand and be placed on a whiteboard (For reference at the end of the session). This method involves everyone in a very short time and serves as an “icebreaker”. Instead of weather, we can choose other analogies (e.g. car models) or simply ask to describe in one or two words how everyone feels.
  2. For gathering data, the moderator chooses “Glad/Sad/Mad” as a silent brainstorming method. Therefore each participant should fill out sticky notes with information about certain, recent events or current KPI’s and how they felt about it. Afterwards they place them accordingly to a whiteboard. This team has five minutes for this. Also here you can vary different methods like sailing-boat (also called motor-boat sometimes), timeline, or art gallery.
  3. Now it‘s time to consolidate the data created to discover deeper insights. In our example we pick „patterns and shifts“. The team identifies same or similar data or opposites (like the same event was considered once positiv and somebody else looks back negatively) and discusses the positions to identify patterns. To focus on the most important topics only, the team chooses dot-voting. A quick session, where everybody gets 3 votes for the most important topics collected on the whiteboard. As a result it is recommended to focus on only one or two topics after this session. Here we could also pick for example “5-Whys” or “Open-Space”.
  4. Finding appropriate actions is what it is all about. Big enough to make a difference… Small enough to be executable… An approach to accomplish that ist “SMART-Actions”. The team debates the chosen topic/-s and generates actions. This actions are measured against the following five criterias: Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. The team is supposed to find a mutual agreement on the action items, assign responsibilities and feeding it into the overall project plan.
  5. Coming to the end of the session, the moderator summarizes quickly the results and the team can choose who is the moderator of the next upcoming retrospective session. To check the mood after the session, each team member creates a weather forecast as an analogy for how their expectations are about the upcoming iteration.

This is a simple but powerful setup to get the most for the team and to improve motivation as well as performance. Doing it sustainable on a regular basis the key. To get started with this is a very low investment with a major return for everybody.

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