How to prevent recency bias from ruining your agile retrospectives

July 22, 2019

How do you feel when everyone in the room is looking at you? Have you ever been on trial? How about a spelling bee? You might have ice your veins and can deal with the pressure. But not me. I once misspelt “animal” in a regional spelling bee and never lived it down. That was three days ago — jk. The pressure got to me. It always reminded me of comedian Billy Eichner’s “Billy on the Street” Lightning Round segments where he would jump in front of unsuspecting New York citizens and ask them incredibly simple questions they would fail because of urgency and spotlight. Here’s him asking people to name a woman:

You wouldn’t be reading this unless you thought agile retrospectives were important. They are! What would Agile even be if not for reflection and process improvement. To truly transform the health of your team over a period of time, it needs to uncover findings and opportunities about itself. Many of which are incredibly nuanced and particular to the people, their habits, the tools they use, and how they all work together.

Knowing all of this, why would you ask your team to context shift dramatically and come up with these topics in a span of five minutes on the spot. You’re asking them to uncover items from potentially several weeks of work to cover that sprint, project, or milestone — in 300 seconds? Add on top that the social anxiety that some might feel from public speaking in general. Don’t forget the people who hold back to avoid publicly associating one of their team members with a negative result. And what about the general detractors who find the meeting to be a waste of potential velocity because the accountability is so consistently poor. If you’re lucky, some members of your team might keep their own personal post-it throughout the weeks to keep track but there’s a chance they’ll lose it or forget what they meant too. The discussion quality simply doesn’t stand a chance against those odds. Trying a new game is not the solution. Here are a few quick things you can try:

1. Keep a permanent agile retro board 📋

The easiest thing you can do is keep a physical location front-and-center devoted to agile retro topics so your team can continuously contribute throughout the sprint or project. It also helps to give a handy reminder since they’ll be noticing it as it gets updated throughout the day. It’s tough to expect a board occupied 365 days a year by agile retro topics so it may not suit your team the best.

2. Remind, remind, remind 🛎

Your team already does all of the other agile ceremonies so bring it up then. As they discuss their blockers everyday, make a suggestion every time to add it to the agile retro board immediately or jot it down and follow up with them right before the next agile retrospective. The same goes for prioritization, grooming, and planning. You’re obviously going to be looking at stories, estimates, bugs, epics, and more that are core to the team — if something comes up, write it down! The last one is to add as many triggered reminders to the calendar invite as possible. Take the onus off yourself and put reminders for days before, hours before, and not just 5 minutes before the meeting takes place.

3. Swap facilitators 🙋

To reinforce the efficacy of these meetings, everyone needs to be in the facilitator’s shoes. The goal here is to have your team respect and appreciate the process as much as possible. Running the discussion is difficult at first but forcing every member of your team to become a more active listener has huge benefits over time and will immediately improve their contribution and continuous allegiance to agile retrospectives from that point forward.

You don’t want your team to feel put on the spot. That’s only going to get you filler or fluff. You want real talk with tons of perspective to emerge and making agile retrospectives a continuous topic is how you’ll do it.

If you want an even easier solution, we’re here. Our plug and play agile retrospectives tool syncs between Slack and Jira to give you a seamless, 360 solution with automated reminders, recaps, exporting, and syncing.

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