Top 5 Retrospective Mistakes

Here are the top five retrospective mistakes we see in our coaching.

1. Not doing retrospectives
You can do a lot of great things in Scrum, but if you’re not actively focused on improvement, you’re missing the main power of Scrum. So don’t skip the retrospective.

2. Using the standard Plus Minus Delta approach
What’s Plus Minus Delta, you ask? It’s the “what worked, what didn’t, what should we try” thing that everyone learns in their intro-to-Scrum class.

Those are bad questions. First, they’re not specific. It should be more like, “What worked how?” and “What didn’t work how?” Second, they’re interpretive. They require people to make judgements.

These questions force you to spend time talking about what happened before you’re ready to say, “Here’s what that means.”

3. Trying to capture all the improvements in advance
When you do this, you’re asking people to make judgements before the meeting. Instead, we want to capture a set of shared observations then make interpretations and decisions together.

If you ask people for their improvement recommendations before the meeting happens, then you don’t even need the meeting — and that takes us back to mistake #1.

4. Facilitating and participating at the same time
Even if you’re an advanced facilitator, this is really hard to do well. If you have strong feelings about what you’re talking about in the retro, you’re unable to facilitate it. Get somebody else to help you out.

A lot of our clients pair up with a Scrum master on another team as a facilitation buddy. When you have a retro you shouldn’t be facilitating, you can ask your buddy to jump in and help.

5. Doing it the same way every time
Especially if it’s Plus Minus Delta.

Doing your retros the same way every time is boring, and it just doesn’t work well. You need to vary it. This way you’ll get different types of information, which will lead to different (and maybe better) results.

There are lots of different ways to do this. Our friend Adam Weisbart has a subscription product called Recess. They send you a new retrospective box once a month. This keeps things fresh and interesting.

Want to learn more about facilitating effective retrospectives? Check out our page with lots of info. In addition, we about to launch our online course on this topic. Make sure you’re on the Agile for All mailing list, and we’ll notify you the minute that thing releases.


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Peter Green

Peter Green led a grass roots Agile transformation at Adobe from 2005 to 2015, starting with his own team, Adobe Audition. His influence includes the teams behind such software flagships as Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver and Premiere Pro, as well as dozens of internal IT and platform technology teams and groups like marketing and globalization. His work was a major factor enabling Adobe product teams to make critical business transition from perpetual desktop products to the subscription-based service, Creative Cloud. His hands-on Scrum and Agile training and coaching at all levels of the organization including executives, helped lay the groundwork to shift teams from two-year product cycles to frequent delivery of high-quality software and services. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), instructional designer, coach, facilitator, and a popular speaker at Tech, Agile, and Scrum conferences.

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