Retrospectives, while coming from the tech world, can be used by any team at any company and across all stages of growth. But wait a second, what is a retrospective? Originally a retrospective would follow a two-week-long product sprint, just as a new feature of a product was developed and launched. Purpose? Talking about improvements for the next sprint, being agile while making changes, addressing obstacles as they appear and at the end getting better, faster.
Yup, it is coming from the world of developers and they sweetly call it a “retro”, but even if you are not working on a product per se, you can get great use out of the retrospective approach. “It can be used to either review a specific project with everyone who was involved or to do, for example, a yearly review of what happened in the team and how the team developed. Especially, with the pandemic bringing a new set of challenges, an annual retrospective can be a great team building exercise that allows everyone to share their highs and lows from the past year,” Anja Kettern, Director of Client Operations at DCMN, says.
Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results
There are a couple of must-do’s for introducing a successful series of retrospectives that will help your projects get better, your teams get more aligned and your business to grow.
- Power to the people: The team owns the retrospective, as they have the best knowledge on what needs to be improved and which issues hamper their progress. When the team members feel empowered, there is more buy-in from the group to execute the actions coming out of a retrospective which leads to less resistance to the changes identified as necessary.
- Make it a ritual: Usually we do not stop to reflect during or even after our big projects. This is not a natural activity, which is why it’s so important to formalise the behavior and make it a ritual.
- Focus on positives: It is extremely important not to use a retrospective to identify purely negative parts of a project. Every project offers positive outcomes and these should be celebrated.
- Create a safe environment: One of the basic ingredients for a successful retrospective is the “safety factor”. People must feel comfortable and secure enough to share their problems, opinions and concerns.
- No blame game: Norman L. Kerth in his book Project Retrospectives explains that before starting a retrospective, we should communicate a prime directive: “Regardless of what we discover, we must understand and truly believe that everyone does the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”
How do we do retrospectives at DCMN?
At DCMN, retrospectives are a regular part of work life for our tech departments, but now different teams use them to achieve different goals… We — the content team — use this approach to make our content projects better. On top of that, any team at DCMN can do a retrospective for purely interpersonal reasons. “I ran my first retrospective at DCMN for one of our tech teams. They wanted to look back on the development of their team outside of a specific project. That’s how I realised how valuable retrospectives are in terms of allowing everyone to share their views in a constructive and productive way,” Anja, our retro facilitator, explains.
“One of the biggest benefits I have seen in using a clearly structured format like a retrospective is that it gives everyone the room to share their personal learnings while respecting that other people might have perceived the same event in a different way. It creates understanding for each other and for different perspectives and ensures that discussion remains factual, not emotional. It can be very energising to put things that happened in the past and look to the future without any misunderstandings, Plus, when the learnings coming out of a retrospective can be shared in the wider organisation, that means a continuous learning and improvement process for the whole company, ” she adds.
If you have thought about, there is a tool for it
There are many books and articles out there that explain, in detail, how to run a retrospective. The basic steps that need to be taken for each retrospective meeting are:
- Set the stage: It’s your warm up before the retrospective marathon. This stage helps everyone check out from their day-to-day grind, be more present and switch to thinking about the bigger picture. One of the great exercises to do in that stage is One Word Check In where you can ask some cheeky questions like: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- Gather data: During this stage the whole team looks back at the product iteration, project or any other event that is being discussed. It helps to sum up all the facts and get everybody on the same page. One useful activity you can run here is Mad, Sad, Glad where you ask everyone to privately write on post-its what they felt mad, sad and glad about during the project and then you organise all the information on the board (in real life or digitally).
- Generate insights: Now it’s time to analyse the data you’ve collected to find the root causes of your issues and think more deeply about the project. For that you can use the 5 Whys method, where you identify an issue at hand and ask why it is happening until you reach the root of your problem. It sounds simple but it works like a charm!
- Decide what to do: Time for some action. Finally! After digging deep and analysing the project, now you decide on the changes you want to make. A great exercise idea here: Start, Stop, Continue. Use the dot voting to choose a couple of actions — how many you choose depends on the resources in your team — that you want to work on before the next retrospective.
- Close the retrospective: Congrats, you are almost done! At this stage you can reflect on the retrospective itself, create some time for celebrating your colleagues and things that went well and, last but not least, don’t forget to document all of your discoveries.
This is just a backbone of your retro, but there are plenty of different (and often out-of-the-box) ways you can engage people to share their insights with the team. You can go for a Starfish, Car Brand or a Sailboat retrospective. The fun never ceases! Some tools that we like are: Miro which has templates for retrospectives that you can readily use, Retro Tool that will be perfect for your online retrospective via Zoom or any other conferencing tool, and if you want to mix it up, search for inspiration on the Fun Retrospectives website.
Our final tips before you are off to run your very first (and very successful) retro? “The best way to get results is to get people in a room together for a face-to-face retrospective, but as it may prove challenging in current times, opt for an easy to use tool for online meetings. Prepare upfront by writing down a proper schedule for the retrospective with realistic timings. Make sure to have enough time to generate learnings for the future and translate these into action points. And lastly, assign clear responsibilities for these action points and to follow up on the implementation,” says Anja.
And we say: Good luck! You can report back to us after your first retro or get in touch if you have any questions.