Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Prime Directive of Retrospectives

Retrospectives are a core element of both Agile and Lean. The need for constant improvement through feedback throughout development is essential for success. I found out that there is now a Prime Directive for Retrospectives and I really like what is said:

Holding a retrospective ritual is a very old idea. It has served the human species well, as the stories of hunts are retold around campfires and the stories of child rearing are shared as baskets are woven. It has survived this long because it works. It’s a fundamental vehicle to discover, share, and pass along the learning from experience—something we also call “wisdom.”

I have one question: Is your organization good at acquiring and using its wisdom in creating software?

Maybe it’s time to try a retrospective. It’s something that every true learning organization has as part of its culture, and it’s one of the best ways to grow—project by project—into a smarter and increasingly successful organization.

One of the most obvious fears people have when first trying a retrospective is that the ritual will become a negative gripe session, interspersed with blame and counter blame. Clearly such an event will not contribute to much learning.

The key to a constructive successful ritual is assuring that all the participants adhere to the Retrospective Prime Directive.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

At the end of a project everyone knows so much more. Naturally we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgment used to embarrass.

While there are many possible interesting questions to address during a retrospective, I have found four to be key to focusing a community on learning and improvement.
1) What did we do well, that if we don’t discuss we might forget?
2) What did we learn?
3) What should we do differently next time?
4) What still puzzles us?

While this can apply directly to those using Agile and Lean practices, what's great is that you can apply this technique to any form of feedback. Ask yourself these questions on tasks you perform. Ask these with your teams. Ask these with your family. All of these areas can help these relationships through communication, learning and improvement.

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