Letting go in retrospectives

When I ran my first retrospectives I was anxious. I planned meticulously. I tried to anticipate what would happen and what wouldn’t. I had back-up plans for my back-up plans. And sometimes back-up plans for those.

As I moved further in my coaching practice I became less anxious. Retrospectives were something I’d done before. They were within my comfort zone.

However, I still planned each retrospective.

Trust in your self

It's time to let go... (it will be ok)
In the last year or so how I prepare for retrospectives has changed. Some of the people I coach comment on the fact I seem to do less preparation than I ask of them.

This isn’t the case.

The preparation I do now is more behind the scenes, part of my day-to-day actions. Something I do as I go along. Of course things can change rapidly, but I can still fall back on a proper planning session if needs be.

Methods for retrospectives

One of the main reasons I can do this now is the number of methods and techniques I’ve learnt over the last few years. Diana Larsen and Esther Derby’s book is a great start. It is however only a start, there are a great many articles and blogs out there on the subject.

A few methods follow one after the other really well, knowing them can save a lot of heart-ache. Unfortunately what works for me may not for you, I’d recommend you try things out and see what happens.

The exception to the rule

This works well, for me, at the team level. As long as I’ve kept track of the team throughout the time-frame I’m normally aware of what the main issues and bug-bears are. As such, any plan becomes self-evident from the data and experiences over the last iteration.

For large-scale retrospectives, however, I’m not comfortable going in without a plan. It isn’t a meticulous, crafted plan but I have the essentials all noted down: exercises and materials needed; timings of everything; key points that need covering. This is more about the logistics than anything else, it isn’t so easy to rustle up post-its and pens for 300 people, or get them into a room for that matter.

Sometimes things need a plan; I guess it depends what you’re doing and how comfortable you are doing it.

Photo by Andrew Mitchell Photography


    • John McFadyen says

      Thanks Bob.

      I have to agree, I still go through the process but don’t produce anything that resembles a plan – hadn’t thought about it that way before.

  1. Lars-Magnus Skog says

    Indeed. Same goes for estimations. Estimating might be good, but the estimates are worthless.

  2. John Martin says

    I wonder would it be OK to call this the difference between preparing and planning? You are certainly not going into the session unprepared, which is what I sometimes see people do when they don’t plan.

  3. Bob Marshall says

    When should an Agile coach “let go” and share responsibility with the whole team for the success (or otherwise) of retrospectives? Should there ever be a time when the team is a passive observer rather than an active (responsible) player?

    - Bob

    • John McFadyen says

      Hi Bob,
      Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation, This post isn’t really about when a team should take responsibility for it’s own retrospectives, however it is an interesting question.

      I used to run team’s retrospectives for them, until such a point that we all felt that they could handle that themselves. For the last couple of years I’ve taken a different approach: I only run retrospectives, by request, for the larger events (project end, release, programme, etc…); instead I spend time working with a team member to develop a plan for the retrospective and then sit quietly in the corner and give encouragement when needed during the meeting. This approach seems to have allowed teams become more capable much faster than taking the reins myself, and is also an approach I am much happier with.

      What are your thoughts?

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