Stop Doing Retrospectives

You’ve decided to adopt Agile, probably Scrum, so you schedule a retrospective for the team, because Agile = Stand-ups + Sprints + Retrospectives.1

The first retrospective lasts about an hour. The team puts a bunch of stickies on the wall under various headings: More, Less, Liked, Learned etc…

You talk about the stickies, you maybe assign a couple of action items, then everyone leaves the room.

You’ve completely wasted the time and energy of your whole team.

How many genuine improvements have you made doing that? How much waste have you eliminated?

Agile ceremonies2 are batch & queue and batch & queue is waste. You’re batching up a sprints’ worth of pain, then trying to alleviate it all at once.

Continuous Improvement

You should be doing continuous improvement. Anytime anyone feels pain, gets injured, or finds a hazard, stop working and fix it.

SWA Card

Right then.

Right now.

Pull the andon cord.

If your team doesn’t feel safe to stand up and say, “I just got injured and I want to fix it,” then you’ve found your first and most important improvement.

Ensuring everyone feels safe to stop hazardous behavior is key to continuous improvement.

Brainstorm an experiment to run for the next 2-5 days designed to fix reluctance to pulling the andon cord. At the end of the experiment, hold a retrospective.

You read that right. Hold a retrospective.

Here’s how.

Get everyone together to talk about the experiment and only the experiment. Have everyone rate how well it worked with either:

  • It worked: establish the experiment as a practice to continue
  • It needs work: modify the experiment and run it again
  • It won’t work: abandon the experiment and try another one

Pick the option with the most votes, run with it, and repeat as necessary.

How to Stop Wasting Time and Energy

Abandoning retrospectives, or running them less and less often, is an advanced agile technique for high functioning agile teams. It should be a goal your team works towards as they master agility.

In the mean time, learn to run retrospectives effectively.

A Suggestion

Get everyone in a room for 45 minutes, and give them the below agenda in advance to save set up time.

Segment the meeting into:

  • Ten minute brainstorming
  • Ten minute dot voting
  • Ten minute experiment defining
  • Ten minute mini retro on the retro

Keep to the schedule.3

Brainstorm

For ten minutes, team members write issues on stickies and stick them to the board.

It’s important the stickies are easy to read from across the room, so use large stickies and write with sharpies. Use the 3×5″ stickies minimum.

Dot Voting

Every team member gets 3-5 dots. You can put all 3 on one sticky or spread them across many.

Team members write little dots on the issues they want to address first.

Dot voting time can be used to arrange, combine, clarify, and eliminate stickies.

Define an Experiment

Choose the sticky with the most votes. If there’s a tie, quickly vote on which issue to address.

Define an experiment to run for the next 2-5 days to address the chosen issue.

Put some thought into the length of the experiment. Pick a time frame long enough to be effective but no longer.

Try thinking way outside the box when picking an experiment. Keep in mind it’s just an experiment, and it’s time boxed. Don’t be afraid to try something radical.

At the end of the 2-5 days, hold a retrospective on how the experiment went as described above.

If the retrospective for the experiment determines the issue is resolved, take the next most voted sticky, define an experiment for that issue, and repeat.

Retro the Retro

Spend ten minutes briefly discussing an experiment on how to do the team retrospective better next time4.

You can search the Internet for retrospective ideas, but the key is voting for one issue to attack and defining an experiment to run to resolve it.5

Continue Doing Retrospectives

Yes, even when you master continuous improvement, you should still, every once in a while, lift your heads up and question your process.

Continuous improvement and just in time retrospectives will help your team eliminate waste and remove hazards; however, dramatic process improvement is best addressed in the standard, dot voting, retrospective.

Hold these every few sprints, or after big releases as part of the celebration.

Celebrate process improvements as well as big releases.

And stop doing big releases


1 Agile is much much more than stand-ups, sprints, and retrospectives.

2 I call them ceremonies because most planning, retrospective, and other <insert agile process here> meetings are executed by going through the motions versus getting the full intent out of each and every meeting.

3 Appoint someone as timekeeper if necessary, but stay on schedule.

4 Improve everything. Remove waste everywhere.

5 The key difference in how I see teams executing retrospectives and how to effectively retrospect on your process is choosing one item to improve, or waste to eliminate, running a time-boxed experiment, and repeating until the issue is resolved.

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