The intersection of technology and leadership

When Retrospectives Go Wrong: The Format Becomes Too Repetitive

As a facilitator and a participant of teams leveraging agile practices, regular, heartbeat retrospectives become an essential part of the team’s toolkit. Doing retrospectives so continuously inevitably leads to some repetition, and on some occasions team members seem to find it boring. I’m sure there’s plenty of reasons why someone might find it boring. I believe one of those reasons is that perhaps no important issues are being brought up, to which I would respond by scaling back the frequency of the retrospective – so say, holding one every two weeks instead of every one.

On the other hand, some people find the standard format of What Went Well, What Didn’t Go So Well (and sometimes Puzzles) too monotonous for their tastes. Even as a facilitator, I admittedly find repeating the same exercise slightly boring.

Luckily the Agile Retrospectives book offers a plenty of options you can implement and still achieve the same outcomes. I think it’s important to ask different questions, and also use different formats. Sometimes asking a different question exposes a set of very different answers from what you’d expect. Using different formats, especially those that are highly visual (symbols, graphics, colours, charts, etc) is enough of a subtle change to keep people interested and excited.

1 Comment

  1. Nathan Henkel

    One way to improve retrospectives is to start with specifics. Questions like “I remember you were planning on using a table lookup to improve performance–how did that turn out?” Sometimes questions like “what went well?” leave everyone mentally stunned. It’s like such a generic question wipes their minds of all specific information. Not always, but sometimes. There’s no “hook” in such a question. Hook people, and most of the general stuff will find its way out. Make sure you’ve covered everything by asking some general questions at the end, once everyone’s mind is working.

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