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ALM #052: 5 Steps to Run Retrospectives that Drive Real Change
A Guide for Engineering Managers to Foster Empathy, Enhance Problem-Solving, and Avoid the Blame Game in Team Retrospectives
📖 Read Time: 3 minutes
Today, I’m going to show you how to leverage the power of retrospectives.
Every sprint, your team goes through a series of events that will bring them joy, frustration, pain, and happiness. Sometimes these feeling surface almost at the same time. It can be a proper mess.
By learning how to connect with your team and get them to share their experiences with one another, you’ll start creating a bond much stronger than any cool team name, cool product or hip t-shirt.
The problem is that most Engineering Managers are focused on just the velocity of the team, the number of tasks closed or the number of merge requests reviewed rather than slowing down now and building a solid and unified team.
Most managers are focused on the optics rather than on the foundations of the team.
No fluff today.
Let’s focus on exactly what we, as Leaders, should do to host a productive and meaningful retrospective session. This is a session that:
Tackled real issues of the team
Produced actionable items
Here’s your action plan for your next retrospective. Let’s dive in.
Create a Safe Environment
One of the most important, if not the most important, characteristic of a retrospective is that it needs to be a safe environment for everyone in the room (virtual or physical).
Team members must be absolutely certain that they can share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fearing retribution or judgement.
This is the key that will unlock all the benefits of a retrospective.
Contrary to what many people believe, a retrospective is not a finger-pointing exercise.
Even though you can put your team members in the spotlight, take this opportunity to work towards improvement in a blameless manner.
For that, the concept behind a Blameless Culture is to focus on the process, not on who did what.
Did a merge review take too long to merge? Instead of asking why Rick didn’t pick that MR immediately, create a process to ensure that MRs can’t be unreviewed for over two days.
Focus on the process. Not on Rick, who was dealing with a bug in production.
Keep Track of Time
It’s very easy to lose track of time during retrospectives.
As the maestro of today’s retrospective, you should always know how long you have at every section of the retrospective.
And remember that you’ll eventually have to decide whether to continue on the topic or move along to the next one.
The trick here is to be transparent about the available time slots with everyone.
Focus in Actions
I see too many teams focus on the discussion and not much on what to do next.
For every item you discuss, make sure you have at least one action and one person accountable for its execution.
You should start every retrospective by reviewing the state of past actions and conclude it by listing every new activity.
Experiment with Different Formats and Visuals
This isn’t a one-size fits all.
Experiment with different retrospective formats. You have so many!
You can try the racing car, the speed boat, the 3 Ls, the Three Little Pigs, the Rock n Roll, etc.
You can even create your own!
Make this a pleasurable experience for your team, that know that any issue raised during the spring will be addressed during the retrospective.
Create a Safe Environment: Promote healthy discussions without fear.
Blameless Culture: This is not a finger-pointing exercise.
Keep Track of Time: Timeblock your retrospective.
Focus on Actions: Make sure you always have actions and people accountable.
Experiment with Different Formats and Visuals: There isn’t a silver bullet.
That’s it for today.
See you all next week!
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Have an incredible week! 💪🏼
Parada 👊🏼 A Leader's Mindset