GET TRAINING

Current Episode

Episode 8:

What are some creative & effective ways to make Retrospectives more engaging?

Anthony is looking for ways to make the Scrum meetings more engaging and useful. In this episode I’ll talk about how to get your team engaged in Retrospectives by making them FUN! If your team feels stuck, tools in this episode will help you break out of old patterns. If you’re already enjoying your retrospectives, this episode will give you a few new tools to take them to the next level.

Like the podcast? I’d love it if you’d take 60 seconds to rate it in iTunes.

Mentioned in the show:

Do you have a question for the show? Submit it at http://GetAgileAnswers.com

Leave a Reply

Adam: Welcome to Agile Answers. I’m Adam Weisbart, your Certified Scrum Trainer and agile coach. Each week, I get your questions about Scrum and agility, and I answer them, here on Agile Answers.

Working on a software project doesn’t have to be boring. Getting work done with your team doesn’t need to be a pain, doesn’t have to feel like you’re stuck in endless meetings. It’s actually possible to work on team that is hugely energized. This high performing team is getting more work done than any one individual could get done. Some synergy happens, not to use a buzz word, but it does. All these high performing teams, people are super passionate about the work they’re doing and they have fun doing it. There’s no reason for any of the ceremonies in Scrum or any other agile approach you’re using. There’s no reason for those things to be boring, to suck the life out of the work you’re trying to do together. And so today’s question really skirts this topic a little bit by talking about the Scrum ceremonies.

Let’s give a listen. It’s from Anthony Labrise [SP] and I think I’ve got some pointers that will help you out a ton. It’s one of the things I’m super, super passionate about, making all of the Scrum stuff fun, engaging, exciting. Let’s listen to his question and then we’ll see how I can help.

Anthony: What are some creative yet effective ways to make Scrum ceremonies like backlog grooming, sprint planning, daily Scrum, and sprint retrospectives more engaging?

Adam: Anthony, thank you for this question. I love this stuff. I love this stuff. And you asked about all the Scrum ceremonies. And while I have tips for each one of them, I don’t think in a short 10-minute actionable episode of Agile Answers that I can go into a great detail about each one. So I’m just going to pick my favorite.

I’ll start with my favorite today and we will talk about retrospectives. I’m going to give you retrospective resources for fun retrospectives you can find online. I’m going to outline one of my favorite retrospectives as well here on the podcast, and I’m going to introduce you to a couple of retrospectives that I created. Again these is one of the things I’m super passionate. And these tools that I’m going to introduce you help get to the heart of this, to make these things fun.

I like retrospectives so much, because I think they are the number one place that a team can improve. This is where they find all the fuel for that improvement. And if you make these boring, if you do the same retrospective over and over and over again, your team is going to be horribly bored. And you’re not going to get anything from them. You’re not going to get anything from the retrospective. But if you change up your retrospective and energize them, they will be highly, highly useful.

So the first retrospective I want to introduce you to are my Retrospective Cookies. My Retrospective Cookies are available at RetrospectiveCookies.com, if you want to see a picture of them. And if you picture fortune cookies, individually wrapped fortune cookies and a black Chinese takeout container with Retrospective Cookies written on them, you put those on the middle of your table for your retrospective and your team will walk in and go, “What the heck is that? What’s going on?” You’ll open up the box, and in box, individually wrapped little fortune cookies like this. You’ll introduce your team to the retrospective fortune cookies and have each member open up one of the cookies. So I’ll unwrap one of the plastic cookies now. And inside is a fresh, wonderful fortune cookie. I would introduce or I would suggest everyone on the team to crack open their cookie.

And inside the cookie, they will find a retrospective question. I would give everybody a time box of about a minute or so to read the question to themselves. Now there aren’t fortunes, and they’re not lotto numbers, but they are questions about your retrospectives. So let me give you an example of one of the questions you might find. It says, “What could our organization do or stop doing as a whole to help Scrum be more effective?” The person would ponder this for a moment. Again, give them about a minute time box, and then you, as Scrum master, would help facilitate a question about each person’s question. Now, it doesn’t have to just be answered just by the person who drew it, anybody on the team can answer that question.

So you’ll start a discussion. You’ll find that some of these don’t really ring true to the sprint that you just had. But one of them, one or more usually, will have a lot of passion behind it. That’s the one I would have a conversation about, or maybe that question spurs another idea. The whole reason we have these cookies, one is to give you a snack, to break you out of your normal meeting mode and have a bit of a sugary snack; and two, to spur ideas around these question. In my experience running this at teams, more often than not, you will get one or more of these things that really spur a great conversation. And you as Scrum master will help facilitate a great conversation around this.

At the end of everybody talking about each one of their questions, I would have the team DoD vote and figure out which one of these items is most important to them, which would they like to spend more energy on in this upcoming sprint to help resolve or move forward. So that’s the first one. That’s a quick overview of the Retrospective Cookies. I think they’re just totally fun to break up the monotony of regular office meetings and such and give you a really passionate retrospective.

The other retrospective you can grab from my website is called Agile Adlibs. Agile Adlibs are if you remember as a kid, doing madlibs where you sit down with a friend and you ask them for a noun and you ask them for a verb and you ask them for, I don’t know, a number between 100 and 3 million and as they give you answers, you fill them in to your sheet. There’s some blank spots in that madlib or in this case, Agile Adlib. And what you end up getting is a nonsensical story, a story that sort of snaps you out of your daily humdrum existence, and hopefully gives you a laugh. Frankly, every time I’ve run this with a team, teams end up just laughing about these stories that they read to each other.

After everybody’s laughing, you’ve read these silly stories about software development, usually, in this case, to each other, you are going to answer questions just like the ones that are mentioned in the cookies. But you have this benefit of laughing a ton beforehand. And for some reason, that juxtaposition, that breaking you out of mere normal like, “Oh, we’re in a retrospective and we have to figure out what we didn’t do right this time, and we have to figure out how to improve it, and we feel kind of depressed about all that,” you don’t have any of that. You just have this fun, you have this laughter, and you have a way to figure out how to move forward, and you do that by answering these questions and brainstorming together, just like with the cookies.

So that’s a quick overview. It’s a little more detailed than that, but those are available on my website as well, Agile Adlibs, and I’ll put those in the show notes, so you can go check them out if you like. So those are two of the retrospectives that I’ve put together.

The next retrospective that I’d introduce you to is not one that I came up with, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s called “Remember the Future.” And it takes an appreciative inquiry approach to retrospectives. It’s one of my favorites because I found that generally, retrospectives focus on what didn’t go well. Well, that can be useful from time to time, I think it really gets people dreading retrospectives, like “Here are our pluses, and here are out deltas. Here’s what didn’t go well, and here’s how we think we could improve.” It just isn’t very much fun, right? And your question, Anthony, was how do you make these things more engaging? And I think you make them more engaging by making them fun and making them positive, and not in a Pollyanna way. I think it’s very important to figure out the things that are hard for you, and the things that are getting in your way, but you don’t need to do that, again, in a boring or painful way. So Remember the Future works like this.

I recently took a motorcycle class in San Francisco, to learn to ride motorcycles. And apparently, by the end of this weekend of riding a motorcycle around in a parking lot, you are qualified to drive it on the street of after passing your DMV written test. Now, one of the main things I leaned in that class was that if you focus on a light pole while driving your new motorcycle, you are pretty much guaranteed to hit it. It turns out if you focus on the thing you do not want to, run into the pole in this example, you will hurt yourself severely. And I think the same thing happens with retrospectives. We focus on what didn’t go well, and then we just keeping repeating it. You want to focus on where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. And so much of the time in retrospectives, we focus on where we don’t want to go.

So this appreciative inquiry approach to a retrospective, again, called Remember the Future goes like this: You invite everybody to picture two weeks from now, provided you have two-week sprints, two weeks from now, picture us getting together for our retrospective. We’re sitting down right now, and we are celebrating all the things that went amazingly well this sprint. So again, remind people, you’re picturing yourself two weeks from now, sitting down at this very table, discussing all the things that went amazingly well, the things you’d like to celebrate this sprint. And give everybody some Post-Its and some Sharpies and have them take five minutes of silent writing to write down all the things that they would like to celebrate two weeks from now.

You might need to give them some examples. And rather than giving them examples, I’d ask them, somebody on the team, “Hey, what would be a good example of that?” And somebody on your team will totally get it. Somebody else on your team would be like, “Two weeks from now, the future? What do you mean?” But somebody on your team will say, “Wow, two weeks from now, I want to celebrate how fantastically our code reviews went, that we actually did them this time.” Or “Hey, that new CI server that we’re going to set up is up and running. It’s saved us from breaking a bunch of stuff at check in.” Someone will get the idea and they will give an example like that. Instead of you giving an example, I would recommend asking them for an example and just waiting while there’s some uncomfortable silence, maybe initially.

Great. So give everybody five minutes. Have them write down those things. And then in your inimitable Scrum master way, facilitate a conversation about these Post-Its that they wrote down. Again, these are all the things they want to celebrate. Now an interesting thing happens. What they actually, usually end up talking about are the things that haven’t gone well in the past, but they’re talking about them as if they went well, which means they’ve actually come up with a way in their mind for those things to go well. Like “Oh, what did we need to do to have the CI server set up this time when it hasn’t been set up properly in the past? Well, shoot, I guess this sprint, we actually need to or this sprint, we actually did save some time, like a decent amount of time in the sprint to work on that.”

So you end up with the same thing. You kind of end up with pluses and deltas, but you end up with it in a much more positive light. And furthermore, your team, by having these conversations, has already identified in their minds the path to getting there. So you’re focusing on where you want to go, not the pole you don’t want to hit. Hitting that pole time and time again is not going to make things better. What’s going to make things better is focusing on where you’d like to go and actually going there.

So that’s the Remember the Future retrospective. I would recommend DoD voting on the things that people bring up in that retrospective, and figuring out which one of them they would like to spend time on in this sprint, spending energy on, like getting that CI server set up.

Finally, another free resource for you on the interwebs that has a bunch of retrospectives that are fun is called FunRetrospectives.com, that’s FunRetrospectives.com. Those will be in the show notes as well. So you can go check out some awesome free retrospective plans there as well.

So Anthony, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to get to each one of the meetings, but I think we’re almost out of time here. I think in some future episodes, I might be able to answer this question for some of the other meetings as well. But in closing, I would say, just make these things as fun as possible. And one of the best ways to do that is mix up how you do your retrospectives every time. Don’t use the same approach every time. That’s boring. Change it up. Change it up.

So you can get my Retrospective Cookies at RetrospectiveCookies.com or Agile Adlibs at AgileAdlibs.com. And in fact, if you want to grab either of those things, I’ll give you a 10% off coupon, just use retrospective, the whole word retrospective coupon, retrospective coupon at checkout. That will be valid for the next week. So jump on there and grab it. Retrospective coupon at checkout, you’ll get 10% off any of those fine retrospectives.

Anthony, thanks again for your question. For having your question featured on the podcast, you’ll get a pack of my Agile Antipattern Cards, which actually make a fantastic retrospective as well. If anybody else out there would like to get a free pack of Agile Antipattern Cards, you can submit your question at GetAgileAnswers.com, that’s GetAgileAnswers.com. If you’re concerned about people hearing your voice on the internet, maybe you’ve got a topic that you don’t want to let people know it’s you asking the question, when you leave the message on GetAgileAnswers.com, you could just say at the very beginning of it, and at the very end, leaving some white space or some silence in between, you could say, “I would like this to be private,” and I will, using the power of my MacBook Air, I will disguise your voice so people will not know it was you. If you do do that, I will even run that by you via email, and you can say, “Yes, that does not sound like me one bit. I’m okay putting that on air.” So if you would like an anonymous question asked, you can do that at GetAgileAnswers.com, GetAgileAnswers.com.

Well, thanks for tuning in. I hope that your retrospective this week is filled with passion, excitement and not at all boring. I hope it’s fantastic. Until next week, stay agile. Never change.

Past Episodes

Episode 22:

How do we make sure we have cross-functional teams and why does it matter?

Episode 21:

What agile practices can you recommend to our game development studio?

Episode 20:

How do we remove silos when doing government contract work using Scrum?

Episode 19:

How should we form new Scrum teams?