Team Agility Master: Iteration Retrospective – Facilitate

Iteration Retrospectives are the structured reflective practice to learn and improve based on what has already been done. The purpose of retrospection is to build team commitment and to transfer knowledge to the next iteration and to other teams.

Retrospectives must be done at the end of every iteration. A briefer version, the After Action Review can be done at any time, whenever there is value for the team to stop and learn from what has been done and change while it still helps work.

Usually, the Team Agility Master is the facilitator for the meeting. A facilitator helps the team stay focused and learn together.

Why to do this practice

Retrospectives are a conversation between team members. These parties have different perspectives and agendas. The do not think in the same ways. They bring their own sets of feelings, fears, and needs. And, especially early on, they do not understand the demonstration process.

The job of the facilitator is to help these people successfully talk with each other about the current status of the project and agree on next steps. The facilitator is responsible for helping to realize the goals and objectives of the meeting owner or sponsor.

Facilitation is a skill. Facilitation is activity of helping a team of people to improve their effectiveness, addressing impediments and conflicts, creating a safe environment to identify and address issues as a group, and assisting with decision making processes.

The facilitator’s job is to do things like:

  • Drawing out ideas and opinions
  • Writing and communicating on behalf of the team
  • Acting as an occasional referee
  • Helping the team to keep to its process and helping them to revise it when needed
  • Helping to achieve consensus

Who does this practice

Here are roles involved in this practice:

  • Team leads have ideas or concerns that should be highlighted based on knowledge of the issues of the team as well as experience in the iteration.
  • The Product Owner may have ideas or concerns that should be highlighted based on experience in the iteration.
  • The Team Agility Master is the usual facilitator for the retrospective.

What to do

Inputs

Inputs to retrospectives include:

  • Everyone who was involved in the iteration be available. The reason is that everyone has some viewpoint about what happened. If someone is missing, an insight will be lost.
  • Goals and objectives for the iteration
  • Understanding what the team committed to for the iteration.
  • Concerns and impediments

Approach

At the end of each iteration, the whole team conducts a retrospection, facilitated by the Team Agility Master. The key question is, “If we could do it again, what would we keep doing and what would we improve?

The approach to facilitation requires

  1. Understanding the goals and objectives of the iterations
  2. Being familiar with the approaches and objectives of the (Conduct Iteration Retrospective)
  3. Handling the logistics for room and materials
  4. Scheduling participants
  5. Identifying possible problems. Develop a good facilitation plan and review the facilitation tools that will be used
  6. Gathering and making visible in handouts or charts the data needed for the meeting
  7. Keeping the meeting running and focused and managing the clock
  8. Capturing notes and insights and distribute to members after the meeting

When to do this practice

Planning for facilitation should be done at least a few days before the retrospective.

Discussion

The iteration retrospective is the opportunity for the team to learn together. Each team member is expected to speak and speaks to the whole team. In this session, everyone should consider themselves to be peers.

The Team Agility Master is there to help facilitate this conversation but not to lead the session.

Objectives

Here are important objectives for facilitating a retrospective:

  • This is a blame free environment
    • The goal is process improvement, not blame. Be honest about what happened. Critiques are allowed without recrimination.
    • Use the normal rules for brainstorming.
    • Seek to uncover the unvarnished truth, what actually went on.
  • We want to identify a vital few things to change
    • While a team may generate a lot of ideas, have the team pick a “vital few” that offer the greatest opportunity for near-term improvement. For each one, create a story and assign it to an iteration.
    • A retrospection is successful if it generates 2-3 stories focused on process improvement.
  • Everyone participates
    • Everyone who was involved in the iteration should be present at the retrospection.
    • Everyone speaks because everyone has an insight that may help foster understanding.

Facilitation

Here are useful notes about facilitating a retrospective:

  • At the beginning, ask people to introduce themselves and their role (even teams that know each other)
  • Begin by reviewing the objectives for the iteration (described above)
  • Create an atmosphere of openness and don’t be afraid to ask the unasked questions.
  • Clarify the distinction between facts and opinions
  • Ensure a blame free environment. Avoid a witch hunt!
  • In a big meeting, ask someone to take detailed notes
  • At the end of the iteration, the facilitator should consider whether there are others in the organization who would find the lessons learned here useful to their situation.

Challenges to consider

  • Growing stale.  At some point in a team’s life, retrospections become rote, stale. It ceases to be seen as useful to the team. Whenever you sense this, it is your responsibility to point it out. The team must consider together how to shake things up, to see how they can make it relevant again.
  • Too many suggestions. Focus on the vital few. Track these as stories for the next iteration so that the team can see value being produced.
  • Too few suggestions. Teams often think too small. They are constrained by assumptions about what they are allowed to do.
  • Complaining. It is common for improvement events to devolve into whining sessions, complaining without an intention to do better. The facilitator can allow a little time for this but then must take strong action to head this off.

Involving outsiders

Retrospectives must be safe environments for participants. This is an important part of the facilitator’s job. This will depend on the maturity of the team and whether confidentiality is required in order to discuss a particular issue. In the early stages, it may be that membership should be limited to team members themselves.

Deciding whether or not to involve outsiders in the retrospective, following this rule: Will the additional person contribute to learning among the team and within the organization?

Should the Product Owner come to the retrospective? Yes, if…

  • The Product Owner has perspectives about the iteration that need to be shared
  • It will help to build relationship between the Product Owner and the team
  • The Product Owner is not involved in evaluating team members
  • The team feels comfortable with the Product Owner being there
  • The Product Owner has time (Product Owners are often very busy)

As the team gains confidence, it could be that asking other Team Agility Masters to observe certain retrospectives. This is especially useful to help them carry lessons back to their teams. They get to hear subtleties first hand, ideas not present in written reports. But only if the team feels comfortable with it!

Outputs

The Iteration Retrospective should result in one to one to three stories for the next iteration reflecting a “vital few” improvements to the process

When to do this practice

Planning for facilitation should be done at least a few days before the iteration.

Facilitation is done both during planning and during the demonstration itself.

Where to do this practice

Facilitation is done in the meeting space.

Outcomes

Here are some of the compelling reasons for this practice:

  • Effective communication between all parties
  • Creation of a safe environment for listening
  • Good relationship with team members
  • Concerns are addressed effectively