Starting an Agile Retrospective
In one of my previous roles I looked after seven Agile teams. For all of my Scrum teams I lead on their Agile Retrospective each sprint. One of the challenges I faced in retros was getting the teams to stop, think and reflect; often people want to power through each retro and get ‘back to work’. To help combat this I tried to start each session in a way that encouraged a bit more thought and reflection.
One of the techniques I have previously used was to ask people to think about how they felt over the sprint and come up with a sentence to describe why. I then drew up three categories on a whiteboard, Stormy, Cloudy and Sunny. Once people had finished writing their sentences we placed them under the right heading that it came under.
I thought that this helped people reflect before we discussed some of individual things that went well (or wrong!) in the sprint.
The main issue I had with this method is that the categories always felt binary, i.e ‘I felt good or bad’, and a lot of the time people wouldn’t want to place themselves in a single category, they would often say in between.
So what’s the alternative?
Sometimes when you walk into the communal kitchen you might wonder, do I work with a bunch of animals? Well, the good news is that you don’t need any literal animals on your team to try out this technique.
To start the retro I ask each team member to think about the animal that best represents how they have felt over the sprint. I ask them to write it down on a post it. This usually takes about 5 or so minutes. Then I ask everyone to stand up and put the post it on the wall.
It may seem strange or like a bizarre and really abstract question but trust me, it can truely be worth it!
I usually start by sharing my animal and then we go around the team. I’ve found that since using this technique people have shared a lot more anecdotal, interesting and insightful things about themselves.
I also think the fact that everyone knows their in the same boat thinking about a left field question like this makes them open up a bit more than when they would be asked to talk about their feelings. For some people they might stumble upon a really insightful response and be more comfortable sharing it than usual while others might just come up with an animal they like and share that instead. It sort of levels the playing field to what people might be comfortable with and a lot of the time people go a bit further than ‘I felt good last sprint because we delivered X’.
So what Animals have I worked with?
You will have already seen the animals people wrote down at one of my recent
Agile Animal Retrospective but I want to share you some of the insights the team shared along with their animal name:
Worker Bee: Felt as though I was buzzing along fine but doing all my work for the ‘Queen Bee’. Basically feels as though I’m being told what to do from the top down right now.
Alligator: I feel a bit like a alligators jaw because I’m trying to do more with less than what I have to do it (The less than symbol, geddit? <).
Humming Bird: ‘Flitting about’ working on lots of different things and been easily distracted.
So you can see how this method might give you an insight you might not usually get from a normal icebreaker. I think that people let their guard down slightly because it’s a fun and unique question. Just like my favourite animal recently, the chimp:
‘I feel a like a chimp because that way I have been working with the code is a bit like throwing sh*t and seeing what sticks’
It definitely had us all laughing but it gave the product manager on the team some food for thought regarding the lack of documentation and testing for our data ingestion process.
Let me know if you try this and whether it worked for you. I’d really like to document some of the animals people choose. Eventually so that I can share a list to people people prompt their teams. I don’t want people to be stuck on finding their inner ‘Sprint Animal’.
Before you go
I want to just say that this is not something I came up with. Several years ago I actually conducted several interviews to hire delivery managers and during the interview I arranged for the candidates to hold a ‘Mock Agile Retrospective’ with a team. One of the successful candidates used this method and it went down really well. I have been using it with the majority of my teams since!