The intersection of technology and leadership

When Retrospectives Go Wrong

Some people think that I’m a little bit crazy about how passionate I can be when it comes to retrospectives. I feel it’s an important event for organisations, teams, and individuals to reflect and adapt the things that they’re doing. I find it really strange, if not slightly contradictory when people, who enjoy practising agile, don’t necessarily believe in the value of retrospectives (but I don’t want to detail that thought just yet).

This week I’ve been fortunate enough to share, with my class, my passion for retrospectives and only had enough time to skim through all the ways that you can use them. What I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to cover was the ways that retrospectives may go wrong and, therefore, not be particularly useful for people.

When people misuse or misapply a particular tool, the people involved can, understandably, jump to the conclusion that the tool itself is terrible and a great waste of time. More often than not, I feel those people have shut their mind far too early, and don’t have enough of a chance to understand the contexts in which that tool may bring the greatest value. Sure, I’ve been through, and probably even hosted, quite a few ineffective retrospectives myself, but it doesn’t mean that the retrospective tool doesn’t offer any value.

To fill the gap that I missed with my students, I’m at least hoping to share with them (and everyone else on the web), my understanding about when retrospectives can go wrong.


  1. marc mcneill

    There’s something about the timing of retrospectives that is rarely discussed. When do you run them? They can be a great tool for back-slapping in those early “forming” stages. But if you *know* that people are unhappy, is the retrospective the best way to seek resolution of the issues? Is it right to air everybodys dirty laundry, or are there better ways to get things on track, such as unilaterally forcing a change of direction if experience tells you that is the best thing to do. Then hold the retrospective. S’pose what I am saying is don’t make pain for yourselves. If you can fix things to make the retrospective a happier experience then you should.

  2. Patrick

    I don’t know if retrospectives are the *best* way to seek resolution, but it is but one technique you can use. Sometimes airing everyone’s dirty laundry can be healthy – as long as the facilitator ensures it’s in the context of trying to improve it.

  3. ceedeedoyle

    so where are the problems?……

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