Retrospectives: Planning

Continuing on from the current theme of running a useful and beneficial retrospective, today I would like to focus on preparing for a retrospective. At first you may dismiss this as being something minor. I thought it was, but as I kept on researching I saw the benefit it gives you in running a successful retrospective.

Preparation Time

In order for things to run smoothly you need to set aside some preparation time with the aims of achieving the following:

  1. Determine the purpose of the retrospective
    You may want to run a general retrospective which focuses on the stories & the interactions between the team and business, or you could run a "focused retrospective" where you drill down into a particular area, such as technical issues, build processes etc.

  2. Create a timed agenda
    By creating an agenda with associated timings on a flip chart, or whiteboard, it not only makes it visible to the rest of the team but gives them a guideline as to the order of events and assists in keeping them focused. For each activity, you should try to calculate how long it would take and ensure that enough time is included for group discussions. You shouldn't resort to rushing people or cutting the retrospective short in order to meet the agenda, as important information may be missed.

Location, Location, Location

The location of the retrospective can have a significant impact on how people interact and think. You should always try to find a room with enough seats that can be easily moved around as the team sees fit. When booking a room, try to book at least about 30 minutes before the start to allow for any setup and to create some buffer time in case the previous meeting overruns.

Another tip is to avoid running the retrospective in the same place where the team sits on a daily basis. This simple change can help the team focus and remove any distractions that may seep in from their current work.

Stationary

I have often seen meetings where people run around looking for white board markers as there are either none or they have dried out. Doing this cuts into your valuable discussion time and these simple things can be avoided by just testing the stationary and equipment before everyone arrives.

If possible, try to get marker pens for the participants as they have a thicker point and are therefore much easier to read that ballpoint pens, especially when some of the members are sitting across the room. Remember that since a large portion of the retrospective relies on jotting things down all the members should write as legibly as possible.

Importance of Marker Pens for Legibility

In retrospectives, the team members are encouraged to contribute by writing down their own inputs. Once everyone has provided input, you should collect & read them to the team members thereafter sticking them on the wall while allowing the team members to suggest if they belong to any particular group. This will create clusters of information, which will drive more discussions. In doing this, you also reduce the Group Think phenomenon as everyone works independently thereby obtaining a larger variety of perspectives.

Some companies may have policies whereby you cannot place anything on the walls etc. In these situations, you could stick the items to a whiteboard or a flip chart. One other quick tip is to bring additional stationary just in case people run out or the markers run dry etc.

Consistency

It is important to be consistent as we as humans are very good at pattern matching, especially when it comes to colours. For example, you should try colour code the Post-It notes so that green notes represent things went well, pink notes are used for things that didn't go so well and yellow for items that still puzzle people. In doing this, it becomes easy to identify a high density of a particular colour which could have otherwise remained hidden.

Prepare the Room

One of your goals is to ensure that the retrospective keeps flowing and running smoothly. You don't want to be fiddling with projectors or trying to arrange the seating once the team members are there. If you want team members to only sit in certain places, then a good suggestion would be to place markers and Post-It notes at those seats. Doing this also gives you the advantage of being able to arrange the seats so that the participants face each other and can view the outputs of the retrospective.

In order to prevent people becoming bored or distracted while you write, try prepare any charts or whiteboards in advance. Also ensure that the temperature of the room is comfortable as people often find it difficult to think when it is either to hot or to cold.

Participation

You may find that certain people often come to the retrospective late or don't know where to go and you have to spend time looking for them. These things do happen, but you need to make sure it doesn't become the norm. Another thing you can do in order to make sure that people arrive on time is to try and avoid back-to-back meetings as this will give people enough time to get to the room.

In addition, it is also a good idea to decide that you need to have a minimum number of participants present in order for the retrospective to be beneficial. If the minimum number of people aren't present then you should reschedule it.

As you can see quite a bit of preparation needs to go into ensuring that you run a successful retrospective. Once this has been done a few times it becomes a habit and a lot quicker to do. If anyone has any other suggestions, I would love to hear them in the comments below.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa