How to set the stage for your agile retrospective

October 25, 2019

Advocates of Derby and Larsen’s Agile Retrospectives approach champion the “Set the stage” exercise to get things started. The goal of this first phase is to establish an open and enthusiastic ecosystem for the team to be mentally present for ready to reflect and share.

A common approach is to use a basic maturity model to assess the team’s satisfaction with the last sprint. We call this “Team Health” and we think it’s the most important insight out of your entire agile retrospective, but many refer to them as temperature checks (freezing, cold, warm, hot), weather patterns (thunderstorm, rain, cloudy, sunshine), or internal NPS scores. These are fantastic quick hitters to get the team to dive in and gather some quantifiable evidence on the health of the team overall so make sure you track these week over week.

While I heavily suggest that you incorporate team health checks into the beginning of your agile retrospectives, they are by no means assurance that your meeting is going to generate great participation. In the massive amount of agile retros we’ve had run in Sprintlio, here are some tips the best facilitators in the world have recommended to supercharge your set the stage:

1. Review the last agile retrospective’s action items

Accountability is the most important thing in agile retrospectives. The discussion is one thing but if you fail to act on it, you’re just wasting everyone’s time — and probably making things worse. To maintain the theme of accountability and improvement for your team, break the ice with the list of action items from the previous agile retrospective to circle back on their status. Even if it’s just a “Yep, that one’s done” it’ll make everyone feel great and show that the outcomes of these meetings are felt. Additionally, they help drive some of the more nuance action items that feel more like habits or lessons into practice to stay top of mind.

2. Review the last agile retrospective’s carryover topics

This one is a bit more controversial but it works. As we’ve investigated before, the core reason your participation is weak isn’t always because your team is shy — it’s often because they’ve lost trust in the impact of the meeting. If a member of your team fails to be heard week after week because their topic didn’t get enough dot votes to qualify for the discussion (this can be especially rough for people in DevOps), they’re eventually going give a shrug and stop submitting things. an opportunity to break the ice quickly. You want everyone to be chatty and this is To create a culture of accountability around the discussions, try to dig up the last agile retro and briefly circle back on the three to five topics that were next in line to be discussed that didn’t get a chance to be reflected on last time to see if the issue is still present. It’ll bring closure to the initial discussion and satisfy the author. It’s more likely than not that the topic is dormant by that time anyways so this opening discussion won’t be wasteful. The goal here is to create a consistency across sprints and meetings.

3. Build an executive summary for the sprint

Recency bias in agile retrospectives can be extremely damaging. To combat it, paint a clear picture for your team of what happened in the past sprint. It can be tough to bring up several weeks of work, topics, problems, or insights in a couple minutes. Come to the meeting ready to show your team a list of the major milestones, notable pull requests, velocity, huge bugs, dates, and objectives to keep things fresh. It’s easy to pull together and is conducive to the omniscience you want to be felt in your team’s reflection.

Believe it or not, setting the stage is the most important part of your agile retrospective. It can give you the indication of your team’s health and long-term success. It can lay out the quality of the discussion. It can motivate weak participation into a robust conversation. And it can define the culture of your team’s accountability to each other and the work.

Need help making the most of your team’s agile retrospectives? 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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