The Agile Tribe

Open your retrospective purse and count the change!

on January 20, 2011

Authors: Agile Coaching Community

Retrospectives without action are like faulty vending machines – neither give you change!

In part of 1 of this 2 part series the Agile Coaching Community offer their ‘wisdom of the crowd’ on what makes for a good retrospective.

“Retrospective is a shift from a study of what you did to an action that will change the future of how you do things.” ~Diana Larsen

A retrospective is an Agile practice that subscribes to the Kaizen philosophy and Lean principle of continuous improvement. Kaizen is Japanese for ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better’ and goes beyond simple productivity improvement. When applied correctly, Kaizen, not only increases productivity and adjusts processes but focuses also on increasing people’s self belief and morale. Praise and encouragement are key parts of promoting innovation and creativity critical elements in the long term health and productivity of the organization.

While Kaizen is a daily process, retrospectives are traditionally more aligned with the practice of ‘Kaizen blitz’ that is designed and organised to address issues that occur over the course of a short timeframe such as a week or an iteration (2-3 weeks).

How often do you course correct?
Traditionally a retrospective is held at the end of every iteration, but let’s make one point clear, once at the end of a project or release is not enough to course correct. The longer we wait to address issues the bigger and harder they become. By making frequent and small improvements we end up with larger gains. We have seen an example of one team who held a daily short and sharp retro to address small and frequent change increments with great success. Another good technique to force a retrospective is to post actions on the wall throughout the iteration until a certain number of actions are reached.

If you can change something now that will make a positive impact for your team why wait?
Continuous improvement should be a team mindset and they should not hold off addressing issues until a retrospective is held. However, remember that it is important to create a sustainable and stable delivery time box. Continuously changing the process during the iteration should be avoided.

So what questions should you ask during a retrospective?
Do you always ask:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What still puzzles us?
  • The answer is that is – It depends!


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