Stop complaining and start learning! Retrospectives that drive real change

Good retrospectives (you know, the ones that actually lead to real change?) rest on three pillars:

* people,
* process, and
* follow-through

What makes retrospectives so difficult is that if any of these three pillars starts to crack, it's very difficult for the retrospective to be a success.

Ultimately, getting the right people in the room, utilizing a good process to facilitate the conversation, and following-through on the learning outcomes depend on having an organizational culture that encourages learning, transparency, feedback loops, and continuous improvement.

If this sounds like your company already, then great! This talk is not for you.

For everyone else, join me to explore how effective retrospectives can break a downward cycle of disillusionment and malcontent and transform you and your team into engines of learning and growth.

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Outline/Structure of the Talk

I've given similar talks on numerous occasions, usually in front of packed rooms, and it's always warmly received. A few times I've even heard it was "the best talk of the entire conference". Please see George Dinwiddie's tweet about this presentation at Agile DC: "@ds_horowitz Killing it on retrospectives in an overflowing room. #AgileDC".

I can fit this talk into 45 to 90 minute slots. With 45 minutes, here's what it would look like:

[3 min] - Intro Game. We will play a little game to warm up the crowd, get everyone laughing, and engaged. It also serves to show how you can "set the stage" at the beginning of a good retrospective. The game involves an auction of a $20 bill. The catch is that while the person with the highest bid wins the $20, the person who ends up with the second highest bid will receive nothing, but will still have to "pay" their bid to the auctioneer (obviously no money will actually exchange hands). This sets up interesting incentives, and given the lack of time to think it through, usually ends up with a final bid over $20. It's funny, and it works every time.

[2 min] Good vs Bad Retros. Unfortunately, many retrospectives in the real world are simply opportunities for people to complain, and those retros rarely (if ever) lead to true continuous improvement opportunities. I will explain why that happens and how it creates a "Vicious Cycle of Retrospective Disillusionment" (bad retrospectives lead to more bad retrospectives, and it's hard to break out of the cycle once it starts).

[30 min] Retrospective Triangle of Success. Good retrospectives depend on three things: 1) getting the right people in the room, 2) following a good facilitated process to encourage participation and to focus on the most important topics, and 3) effective follow-through so that ideas turn into action. Here's a bit more detail on each:

People. I will spend 10 minutes discussing the issue of who you should invite to the retrospective in the first place. When is it appropriate to include management? Stakeholders? The PO? Getting the right people in the room is all about balancing the need for psychological safety (including only the people you already trust) with effective discussion (including people you might not trust who have valuable insights and ideas to share).

Process. I will spend 10 minutes going over how to use facilitation to encourage participation in the retrospective. In particular, I will briefly go over Diana Larsen's and Esther Derby's 5 phases approach. I will also discuss how rotating the role of the facilitator (both within the team and also across teams) can help spread knowledge and improve everyone's facilitation skills. Lastly, I will talk about when it's okay to not use facilitation at all (the 30-second "reflex" retro).

Follow-through. I will spend 10 minutes talking about why if you don't focus on follow-through, even if you have the right people in the room and follow a good process, your retrospective was a failure and waste of time. I will go over what you can do to encourage follow-through, namely: 1) use an experimental mindset instead of a "fix it" mindset, 2) if an impediment is outside your team's control, don't just complain about it, broadcast it to your organization and try to get help, 3) how to effectively "radiate" your learnings/hypotheses, action items, and impediments to the rest of your organization without fear of retribution. I will also go over how having someone regularly go over the organizational impediments coming out of retrospectives across teams can help retrospectives lead to organizational improvements not just localized team improvements.

[5 min] Closing. In summary, to break the Retrospective Cycle of Disillusionment, you need to get some small wins coming out of your retrospectives. Once people start to see how retrospectives really are leading to improvements, they will be more engaged in the retrospective process and more apt to participate. And the best way to do this is to get the right people in the room, to follow a good facilitated process, and to follow-through at a team and organizational level.

[5 min] Q&A. I will give participants the opportunity to ask questions.

Learning Outcome

Attendees will walk away with:

  • How to create a safe environment for brainstorming, collaboration, and retrospectives
  • How to balance personalities within the group
  • When anonymous feedback is necessary… and when it’s not
  • The role of ongoing feedback in continuous improvement
  • How breaking the mindset around retrospectives can positively impact the ongoing employee engagement crisis

Attendees will also gain an understanding of the pitfalls of traditional employee engagement tactics and how to overcome challenges associated with these efforts by deploying agile retrospectives to create a safe, honest and productive environment for teams to deliver their best work.

Target Audience

Anyone who facilitates (or participates!) in retrospectives and is looking for ways to improve the experience.

Prerequisites for Attendees

Participants should have at least some hands-on experience with retrospectives in order to understand the challenges of retrospecting successfully. No other knowledge is needed, other than an interest in truly effective retrospectives, learning mindsets, and continuous improvement.

schedule Submitted 2 weeks ago

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