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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Retrospectives Reloaded

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I’ve read and heard a lot advice on running better retrospectives. I’d even go that far to say that if you speak at agile event and you want an instant hit “how to run a good retro” should be very high on your list of potential topics.

After all, this whole “getting better” thing seems really important to everyone and improvement is almost always a struggle for teams. A retrospective is a nice package; it’s pretty self-explanatory, it has a good name and it’s open-ended enough that you can adjust it to your needs.

It’s not a new concept though. I was doing post mortems back then when agile was just a word in a dictionary. Same goal, different package. Well, maybe not that sexy, and that’s exactly why you should rather jump on a retro bandwagon to win the crowds.

Anyway, the problem with vast majority of stuff I’ve heard or seen about running better retrospectives is simple: they are all recipes. You may apply them and they either work or not. Even if you’re lucky and they happen to work once, they quickly wear out. After all, how many times do we laugh at the same old gig?

Then, we’re back to the square one. How to revive the next retro one more time?

It’s because we get the wrong advice on retrospectives over and over again. It shouldn’t be “try this” or “try that.” The real magic happens when the thing you do during a retro is fresh and everyone gets involved.

Both things are often surprisingly easy. You can count on people’s engagement when you don’t push them out of their comfort zones too far, e.g. I would say that singing in front of the team probably isn’t the best choice you might make. But all sorts of drawing are usually safe.

And being fresh? Just think about all these funny ideas you discuss by the water-cooler. Playing an act, recording own version of movie classics, a concert, a cooking event, or cleaning a randomly chosen car on a parking lot are all such concepts. People were enthusiastic to sign up for such things. Wouldn’t they be so if it was a part of a retro?

However, if you’re going to use a cooking event as an awesome idea for the next retro you understood nothing. Go, read the post again from the beginning. I don’t want to give you any recipe. I’m going to simply point the fact that every goddamn team on the planet Earth has a ton of fresh ideas for their next retro. It’s enough if you retrieve a single one of them.

In fact, it’s even better. If you use one of those crazy ideas your team discussed a couple of days ago during lunch, odds are they will eagerly sign up for it.

This is why I’m not going to be stunned with the next “better retros” session. Because, you know, I have such a session a few times a week. I just pay attention.

in: project management

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