Stop Wasting Time in Retrospectives

We need to talk about what to change to fix the big problems. These are not short conversations. This should be the priority of our time together as a team.

Colleen Johnson

September 22, 2019

Chances are you are familiar with the five phases of a retrospective and even if you don’t run all five of them every time- you probably always gather data. Let me recap how this usually goes for me: we spend the first five or so minutes chatting about something fun and casual before I run through some metrics about the sprint to set the context for the conversation. Then I share the format for the retrospective, hand out sticky notes and sharpies and give the team a chance to reflect.

Everyone stares down at their stack of sticky notes, trying to think of what to write but trying harder not to make eye contact and get called on to share first.

And really, that’s fair. I don’t know what I wore yesterday let alone what went well two weeks ago. I can tell you I got a new phone on Wednesday. I can tell you I rear-ended someone Tuesday afternoon on the way to pick my kids up. I can tell you this morning I had the best the breakfast burrito of my life. My point is that BIG things stick out.

Not everything that is important about my sprint deliverables are going to be the things that I remember.

So now that I have a semi-coherent picture of the last two weeks, I’m going to spend 5-7 minutes telling you about it. I’ll tell you about my new phone, my fender-bender, my burrito- and if you don’t believe me check the food-to-data ratio of all of your past retrospectives.

Now let’s consider the audience of this exercise of the memory impaired (p.s. that's all of us). If you figure the average scrum team is about seven people and that the average salary might be about 100k- we just spent about $300-$400 dollars talking about jack shit. We had a good laugh. You now know what I do and don’t like about burritos. But we left about 10 minutes of our very expensive hour to pick a problem to fix, never mind actually discuss a solution for how to address it.

This is what retrospectives are for. We need to talk about the problems we are having. We need to talk about what to change to fix them. These are not short conversations. This should be the priority of our time together as a team.

So here is my suggestion, lets gather data all the time. Make notes of things when they happen. Drop the comment about the lack of donuts and add one about the production outage. It’s hard to get better when we can’t remember. If we are making notes of issues when they happen then we can use our hour together to actually talk about how to solve them.

Imagine how much we could improve if we spent our precious time together as a team discussing how to fix the things that are busted. Maybe with breakfast burritos.

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