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We too have a need for optimization - retrospectives for better cooperation

Retrospectives are part of everyday life in many agile methods such as Scrum. At the end of each sprint, the project team talks about things that went well or badly and where there is room for improvement. Since projects are set up very differently in our company, there have been several or no retrospectives in the past, depending on the project. We thought we had to change that, which is why we have established the Recap date as a fixed part of the project schedule for a few months now. For small projects, the date is set after completion, for large projects it is set according to milestones.

Recap appointments have the following objectives:

  • Strengthen the cooperation within the team and with the customer.
  • To continuously improve quality and efficiency.
  • Provide space to address topics openly.

It is important that retrospectives take place promptly, because the longer the project is in the past, the less the participants can remember details. In addition, the motivation to deal with difficult topics, which were so long ago anyway and no longer seem important, decreases.

Preparation

The right preparation is very important for a successful retrospective. In our case, the organizer of the appointment asks all those involved to reflect on the project again in advance. It is important that those involved take sufficient time for this. Often, problems and possible solutions for dissatisfaction in the project only become clear on closer examination. A common method is for the participants to record their feedback on cards before the appointment.

We use the terms Continue, Stop and Start as a guideline and fill in as many cards as required for each of these areas. The level of detail of the description may vary. Remember - even small details are important. Because these can be improved by simple measures.

Here is a brief explanation of the terms

Meeting

The organiser invites all persons who have made a contribution to the project to the recap date. It is important to get the perspective of those who have only been involved in the project for a short period of time and often they have a better view of the project from the outside.

At the beginning of the appointment it makes sense to ask for the current mood of each participant regarding the project. This will give you a quick overview and enable you to assess how problematic the following topics actually are. In the later course of the appointment, it is often the case that negative comments on the project predominate. This is not because most of it was bad, but simply because people always remember negative things better than positive ones.

The mood at the beginning helps to sort out all the negative comments, and then the organiser presents a short summary of the project. This includes the project participants, the course of the project, duration and effort. In this step, the current status can also be compared with the planning. In addition, goals that have been set in advance can be taken up and, if necessary, jointly ticked off, followed by feedback from those involved in the project. One after the other, each person presents all their cards.

The preferred order: from the positive, to the negative, to the possibilities for improvement. Questions of understanding may be asked during the presentation, but lengthy discussions should be avoided if possible. This gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinion on the project without being criticised for it, and while talking and listening it may seem like cards are repeated. Nevertheless, everyone should present their feedback in their own words. In this way, everyone's opinion will be taken seriously and personal problems will be uncovered.

Often a different formulation leads to a completely different problem. Also the problems (Stop) and the possible improvements (Start) seem to overlap. The distinction is also important here, as the project participant is encouraged to think first in the problem space and then in the solution space.

After everyone has given their opinion, the result can look like this:

Now critical points can be discussed in detail in the group or the organiser can close the appointment at that point.

In order to keep motivation high at retrospectives, it is good to use creative methods again and again. This means varies with the introduction, with the process and uses different visualisations and metaphors. This keeps the team motivated and makes it easier for them to talk about problems, and a little cake to keep the spirits up never hurts 🙂

Documentation

To ensure that the findings are not lost and improvements are implemented in the further course of the project, everything must be documented. Documentation alone is not enough, however, because the findings will then quickly gather dust in the drawer again, so it is best to derive tasks or measures from the results and appoint a person responsible for them. If the findings are of relevance to other projects, you should present them to the entire team.

Resume

The retrospectives have taken us a big step forward in our work. We are now continuously optimising our working methods - even by making small changes in our everyday work. Teamwork has also improved greatly. Everyone is offered a space to get rid of their worries and concerns and to give positive feedback. Only in this way have we learned to understand each other even better and to pull together in the same direction.

Miriam Springer

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