After studying Lean manufacturing, I understand why Agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional ones. A huge part of this is Agile retrospectives.
Unlike software, failed physical products are usually unfixable. You can recycle ideas, but materials – only partially and in rare cases. If your physical product fails to sell – you can’t simply go back and fix the code.
In the software development world, however, we can always go back and fix the product. Agile retrospectives enable us to prototype faster, deliver new updates more regularly, and be totally in control of our quality assurance.
This is the power of Agile. And all it takes is a serious systematic approach to retrospective meetings.
Agile Retrospective – The What
In Agile, retrospective (“retro” for short) is a kind of post-production meeting, usually an hour-long, that a team holds after each week or sprint (for SCRUM projects). During retrospective, developers discuss the successes and failures they faced during the stage.
The purpose of Agile retrospectives is to identify the root causes of every issue and find ways to avoid them in the future.
It’s true that continuous improvement should be practiced during production just the same as after it. However, when people are already busy working it’s harder to start any new initiatives.
Retrospective, on the other hand, gives breathing space for ideas and time to regroup before the next stage. Your team can relax and focus on improving collaboration and efficiency.
After the retro, it’s a common practice to list points outlining the improvement areas and ideas. Each retrospective the team turns back to the previous list and adjusts the new one accordingly. Meeting at regular intervals is the key here.
Daily processes love continuous improvement but usually leave us no time for a second thought on how to actually implement it.
Also, when team players work on improvements separately – suboptimization occurs. Individuals perform better, but the overall project still may fail.
Agile retro-spective allows us to put things into per-spective. As the final principle of Agile Manifesto states:
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
Which is indispensably connected to another Agile principle:
“Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”
People who can rely on each other and together pursue technical excellence create best-performing teams. They save a lot of time and resources both for themselves and the company.
Teams that practice retrospective meetings eliminate recurring problems, improve their workflow, and deliver better products faster. They also set the pace for the rest of the company, motivating other teams to improve.
- Nurtures continuous improvement culture
Looking for the most efficient ways to deliver value together creates a catalyst environment for the changes.
- Empowers teams
Retrospective allows team players to make their own decisions accept responsibility. As a result, your team will grow in maturity and self-motivation.
- Helps team-building
Retros bring people together, and if done correctly – train them to be more understanding and helpful towards others.
- Vents frustrations
Any issues at the workplace are either human issues or they affect someone personally. Agile meetings create a comfortable space to talk about and ease those frustrations.
Retros are awesome, but they are also very easy to screw up.
Here’s what you want to avoid:
1) Useless complaining
Don’t let your meeting become toxic. Let people speak out about their frustrations, but keep it constructive. Finding solutions to the problems is more important than talking about them.
You don’t have to entertain people, just help them stay focused. Long projects burn enthusiasm – it’s normal. Make routine interesting with new retrospective exercises and approaches.
3) Information Leaking
Make sure that every team member feels safe to share their insights. It’s better to keep some things in the family.
4) Checklist Overload
Trying to improve everything at once is dangerous. Set priorities and use short, practical action plans.
And, lastly, make sure that as the leader you:
- Have a plan
Project manager or SCRUM master running the meeting has to prepare the agenda beforehand. You also have to plan regular future meetings.
- Be the facilitator
Actively lead the retrospective, encourage discussion, and take notes. Make sure that every team member feels welcomed to participate.
- Criticize process, not people
Arguments against personality is a logical flaw, and they rarely help anyways. Focus on what, not who – identify behavior issues and help solving them with understanding.
- Practice what you talk about
Giving the right example is the best way to build authority. Accept and keep responsibilities. Own your decisions as much as you own the meetings.
- Analyze the workflow
As a manager, you can observe the workflow from top to bottom. Seek for the points in the process that need improvement. Think about the main obstacles in the daily workflow and how they can be removed.
- Build the team
We’ve touched on this earlier, and much more can be added. Just remember that “the P in PM is as much about ‘people management’ as it is about ‘project management’” (as Cornelius Fichtner has put it).
- Don’t forget to summarize
Productive retrospective means that you get a practical to-do list at the end of it. Use the Who-What-When method – it will be easier for you to manage responsibilities on schedule the tasks.
Hopefully, by now you understand enough to organize your first Agile retrospective. And if the magic doesn’t happen, don’t give up – focus on the continuous improvement. After all, that’s exactly the point of Agile methodology.
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