If you are part of an Agile team on the path to improving efficiency and creating a stimulating working environment, there are best practices in this article that will be of interest to you.
Even if you’re at the start of your Agile journey, you’re likely aware of the importance of Agile ceremonies, and especially retrospective meetings.
Among the many retro formats out there (and there really are many), the Start Stop Continue retrospective format is one of the most popular. When teams are first introduced to retrospectives, it’s the Start Stop Continue retrospective format that represents the most accessible entry point into integrating this vital meeting into your routine.
The Stop Start Continue retrospective is a technique for reflection that improves team unity and allows you to easily check in with your team members as well as consider the process through which projects are getting completed. The exercise has three main goals that aim at identifying:
You don’t need much time and effort for preparation, as all the materials you require in order to run a Start Stop Continue retro are none other than the usual suspects:
When you have picked the best time for everyone and gathered your materials, start the meeting by choosing a topic for the retrospective. There are no guidelines for the topic, you can start anywhere – teamwork relationships, project phases, or other points of friction that are important for the team to resolve at the time. For example, you can start with topics like:
Because of the basic format, you can easily host a Start Stop Continue retrospective with a small team of two or three people as well as wrangle a larger group of ten or more members.
With a retro topic to help focus their efforts, team members begin by documenting team process practices they believe are related to this topic, either positively or negatively.
Give everyone a separate color of sticky notes so that it’s clear who has written what. Ask your team to write each of their contributions on a separate post-it to make facilitation easier. The goal of generating ideas individually is to begin the retrospective with a moment of self-reflection before launching into team discussions. Individuals aim to answer the following prompts:
Keeping descriptions short and to the point, for example not more than 5-6 words on a post-it, means everyone can read the statements at a glance when they are added to the visual board. When everyone has written their notes, place them all on the board.
The board/table that you use should have three columns called Start, Stop, and Continue. This visualization will help you instantly understand how the team perceives most of the practices that are currently in place.
Team members sort their post-it in the Start column if it describes a process practice they believe the team should start doing (that was not being done or not being done enough now). Typical examples of contributions to the Start column might include “automate reporting tools to save time” or “define our priorities better to improve productivity”.
In the Stop column go the sticky notes with practices that should be stopped because they describe a practice that is not productive or effective enough for the team. These might be “don’t spend more than 30 minutes on a daily standup that starts drifting away in long discussions”, or “remove non-essential meeting participants to free more time in their calendars”.
The Continue column should contain sticky notes with tasks that should be continued or enhanced because they are working well. Here the team can categorize practices like “record knowledge transfer sessions so that everyone has access to them at all times”, and “rotate the order of people presenting during daily standups to keep everyone engaged”.
Team members place their sticky notes in the corresponding column and if each member started out with their own color it makes it very easy to see who placed what where. Using separate colors for team members helps you see who has the most ideas and which are the sections on the board that most people have contributed ideas to.
However, if your team is shy, you can use one color for all sticky notes to anonymize the contributions. Anonymity can improve the quality of the feedback given.
Before you start the team discussion to flesh out the existing ideas, group the duplicate and similar items into clusters. This will help you identify the overall number of items and their diversity. Also, you will see which ideas are most common among the team.
The discussion is the most important part of the Start Stop Continue retrospective format. It is an opportunity to go through the contents of each column and determine their impact on the team as well as how to make them actionable.
If team members disagree or need greater clarity on some of the items, now is the time to debate! Disagreeing in the forum of the retrospective meeting means you’ve discovered the heart of the matter and you have the right tool to resolve it.
Use the simple dot-voting method to determine which ideas should enter the team’s to-do list until the next retrospective.
Teams often rely on dot voting to create focus around the most valuable or urgent ideas instead of bringing every idea for process improvement into their next sprint.
To vote, every team member is allotted a certain amount of dots in order to express their preference (for example 5 dots each).
Team members gather in front of the whiteboard and vote on the process improvements they would like to see happen. They can distribute them between multiple items or place all 5 dots on 1 action point, if they’re passionate about it.
When everybody has placed their dots, the facilitator orders the action points according to the number of dots they received.
To ensure the team takes action over the course of the next sprint, individuals volunteer to take responsibility for process improvements that were voted up during the prioritization step.
By assigning owners to the process improvement actions, the team creates accountability around these items and treats them as tasks that require team resources to achieve.
These action items are added into the sprint backlog and factored into the team’s capacity planning.
Throughout the sprint, changes to processes that were suggested during the retrospective will flow through the board from To Do to Completed as the team member responsible works on making them a reality inside the team.
Apart from being an excellent starting point for your team and retrospective meetings, there are many short and long term benefits to integrating the Start Stop Continue retro format into your next opportunity for reflection. By practicing the Start Stop Continue format, you will:
Boost your team spirit and agility with the Start Stop Continue retrospective format and discover new frontiers to your collaboration capabilities as a team.
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