Resonates With Me | By Mattias Ahlström

Turn the tide in an awful retrospective

We’ve all been there, dreading this awful retrospective of a project or sprint gone completely off the rails. We probably learnt a lot, but the main gut feeling can be summarized in “Ouch”.

Running a successful retrospective in these situations can be somewhat challenging, especially if you want the team to continue being a team at the end of it.

Here are some important elements on how to run a retrospective that will not end in disaster.

Check your heads and reset your thoughts

Whether you have your retro in the morning, in the afternoon or late in the evening, people need to reset their heads to the retrospective. Maybe they’ve had a crazy commute, had to wait for lunch for 30 minutes and then wolfed it within 5 minutes.

Asking icebreaker question is an easy way fast way of resetting your mind. Some dislike them and think the icebreakers are a waste of time, even then, the moment they start to think about “how silly the icebreaker are”… that’s when it has done its magic. It made them focus their thoughts on something else.

Safe from harm

Make the retro a safe place for improvement by stating that we believe and trust that everyone did the best they could with the information and knowledge they had at the time.

Every now and then I state the The Prime Directive written by Norm Kerth in his book Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Start with the positives alone

This is one most important part of this retrospective. It is super easy to go into all things negative about a disastrous project, but by focusing on good and great achievements as a separate part of the retrospective we will have a record of what we experienced or learnt that felt important to the team.

Run an exercise writing stickies on the topic of everything good about the project.

Before we get going with the nitty gritty of the project we need to remind ourself of everything that was really good with the project, so that we do not forget it.

Let each member walk through their positive learnings from the project.

Group the stickies and ask the group to reflect on them and ask if there is anything that we need to add, again “so we don’t forget about it”.

The improvements and the purely bad

With some positivity towards the project you can now run a usual retro, such as “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”, “Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed For” or “Keep, Add, More, Less”. But remember that there is no need to run “The positives” from those retros, since you’ve already asked for them.

Similar to the previous, let each member walk through their notes. Group and reflect. Are there any action points to bring forward to the next sprint or project?

End with the positives

Now you hopefully have a whiteboard full of notes. Positive learnings, bad experiences we don’t want again and things we can improve.

Summarize and end the session by stating: This was a challenging sprint/project, we are pretty awesome that pulled through it. Re-iterate the action points on what we can do to get better, and focus a bit on all the things we’ve that was good and great at the end.