Ever been in a meeting where the organiser doesn’t really know why they brought everyone together, or even have an agenda to start with? It devalues your time and you feel pretty frustrated. I’ve seen the same happen when facilitators don’t prepare for their retrospective. Preparing well demonstrates to participants respect for their time. Conversely a clear lack of preparation shows disrespect. Even though it doesn’t guarantee it, proper preparation ensures a better chance participants will be more willing to engage.


Image taken from Meredith Farmer’s Flickr photo stream under the Creative Commons licence.

What to do about it?
In preparing for the retrospective, I like to go through this list of questions:

  • Who is the sponsor for the retrospective? – Sponsors may have extremely different agenda. Some of it may be about spreading lessons learned, others just want to understand the root cause of some major problem. You want to be clear about who the sponsor is and why you’re even running a retrospective. Is there just one person, or are there more of them?
  • What are their goals, and what are you going to end up by the end of it? – Looking for ways to improve client relationships will have a completely different focus than understanding what new technical innovations came out of the project. The goals will heavily influence what exercises you plan for.
  • Do you know how long the retrospective will be looking back? – Planning to look back over 1 week will be different from 3 months and different again from 1 year.
  • Do you have an idea about what topics might come up? – A retrospective for a project where significant negative events dragged the team at certain stages will be different from a retrospective for a project that had less troublesome issues.
  • Have you planned for enough time to cover everything? – You want to have enough time for people to tell their stories, unload any emotional baggage and get to understand what lessons are worth sharing.
  • Do you have a good representation from team members? – Just having development members in a retrospective will skew what you talk about, perhaps missing important elements all the way from the sale, client relations, etc.

Just before starting the retrospective, also ensure that you have all the materials prepared – this may includes markers, pens, paper, sticky notes, handouts. Also ensure you have the room prepared with any posters or whiteboards you plan on using.