I came across this free e-book, “Get Better Faster: Ultimate Guide to Practicing Retrospectives” via twitter (though I can’t seem to find the tweet that led me to it anymore) and thought I should write a review of it, like any other book. I’ll use a variation of the perfection game for this review.

Things I wouldn’t change
Firstly, it’s licensed under Creative Commons so anyone can use it. Yay. Then there’s the fact that it’s an eBook so it makes it quickly accessible to every. I guess it’s a bit more like giant slideware than a typical book, but that makes it easy to digest when reading on a computer – generally not to much text and nice little break out sections to help keep it varied.

The book references a number of interesting related practices such as After Action Review (AAR) developed by the US Army, though note they refer to it by the After Review Cycle that seems to be coined by a single consultancy. I will point out here that I disagree with the disadvantages of AAR that they list to compare them to retrospectives. If you read it, for instance, replace “ARC” with “Improvement” or “Learning” and it still reads the same. My point is that the inherent disadvantages are not an essential quality of the tool itself).

I like the 8 tips for better retrospectives that are widely useful for many teams and environments, mirroring many solutions to those I’ve suggested in my previous serious on, “When Retrospectives Go Wrong“. I like the way they highlight the importance of a facilitator role (which, in my experience, definitely helps make any important meeting more successful) and the provide some tips directly for the facilitator.

Finally they provide some good advice on making recommendations more tangible and, hopefully, more likely to be implemented.

Things that are different
Many people often ask the question why bother running retrospectives, and they have a page on metrics on retrospectives. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the metrics, it does answer some immediate questions managers and executives often have (unfortunately it is often the wrong question, in my experience, to answer).

Things that would make it perfect
It saddens me that, in the book, they make no reference, nor no acknowledge to other books on the topic. There is a small list of articles linked to some web resources, but I find it strange that they made no references to Kerth’s “Project Retrospectives” book, or Derby and Larsen’s “Agile Retrospectives” book. Nor to websites such as http://www.retrospectives.com or http://agileretrospectivewiki.org/

It also pains me the whole eBook is covered in excessive branding (twice on every page!) Fair enough they built it to market themselves, but really!

There is very good advice in the book, such as “set the meeting for one-to-three hours, with one hour often being ideal”. These novice rules/guidelines are important however I feel prevents people from achieving true mastery without explaining why these are the cases. In this example, the question best answered is, “Why is one hour ideal?” The lack of explanations is a problem as people who start to break these rules don’t know where to look next, or what to try, when the context isn’t appropriate.