Rob's guide to effective retrospectives
Retrospective facilitation is a skill
I'm continually amazed by the number of people I speak to who run retrospectives but haven't read Derby and Larson's Agile Retrospectives: Making good Teams Great (or similar material on effective facilitation). Making sure the meeting is not being driven by whoever shouts the loudest or just ending up as a long ineffectual rambling debate takes thought and practice. The third chapter of Derby and Larson's book above, "Leading Retrospectives" is a must read for anyone who is going to responsible for an hour or more of an entire team's time (which could add up to $1000's in man hours).
Rotate the facilitator role
A big smell I regularly see and hear about is it being one person's job (usually a scrum master or project manager) to facilitate the team's retrospectives. When this is the case you will often find a general lack of engagement or enthusiasm for them from the rest of the team. It may be one person's job to make sure they happen and everyone turns up, that does not and should not mean they also have to run every retrospective as well.
Instead try and get everyone to take turns facilitating. Not only does this ensure no one feels they're always being driven by one person's agenda, there are many other side benefits:
- Learning how to facilitate is great for developing communication skills and generally how to have effective meetings.
- The burden of planning retrospectives is shared across multiple people.
- Retrospectives are less likely to become dull or repetitive.
Get someone outside the team to facilitate
Really easy to do if you have more than one software team - ask for someone from the other team to facilitate your retrospective and when it's their turn return the favour. This is a great technique to avoid the risk of biased facilitators (face it, we're all biased whether we believe it or not!) and even better has the wonderful side-effect of being a great way to cross-pollinate ideas between teams.
Start each retrospective by going through the actions from the previous one
Be well prepared
As facilitator, make sure you've chosen a retrospective plan and have all the materials you need well before the retrospective is due to start.