Using Retrospectives to Gather Team Insights

Coming from a background of heavy Agile/XP development, there are a few processes and activities I just can’t seem to shake. One of my favorite activities to bring a team together is an Agile Retrospective. If you've never experienced a retrospective, let me share how we do things the #NerdHerd way.

When introducing the concept of retrospectives to our fearless leaders, I wanted to stress that the exercise isn’t designed to be a boring whole-team meeting. With retrospectives, we use group activities to promote direct feedback from everyone and foster cross-group communication. That may read like a buzzword soup, but as we’ve seen over the last few months, the end results are real.

We held our first ‘retro’ in early August, using a simple whiteboard, post-its, and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis format. To ease everyone into the format, beer and cookies were provided, which also increased attendance. After a brief introduction designed to encourage participation and feedback, I explained the activity and gave everyone 5-6 minutes to add items under each category. Afterward, I had a few team members organize the posts into sub-groups. We used the remainder of the time to highlight the important themes that grew out of our collective results. Not surprisingly, communication was one of the most common entries, which reinforced the original goal of the retrospective. It was great!

We now hold whole-team retrospectives on the first Friday of each month; reviewing the month prior, sharing our successes, and learning from all areas of our business. Retrospective formats we’ve used to date include: SWOT, Positive/Change, and most recently, Show & Tell.
If you are looking to get started, or just mix up your retro format a bit, I suggest the resources below:

Retrospective Wiki – A great resource for plans and tools. I’ve found it best to mix and match different ideas to suit the theme I want to address.

Running a Retrospective – A great introduction on the steps a retro leader can take to be completely prepared for organizing a retrospective.

Retrospective Rules – An older, yet comprehensive post from my former-colleague, James Carr, on moderating retrospectives and adjusting content and presentation for overall success.

If you have other tips about organizing retrospectives or questions about how to get started, leave a note in the comments below!