Retrospectives: They Matter, Here’s Why.

By Matt Murphy, Senior Engagement Manager

If you are familiar with the 12 Principles in the Agile Manifesto, you have most likely heard that retrospectives play a critical role in helping teams create and work better. Retrospectives are meetings held at regular intervals during an agile development cycle. During a retrospective, teams reflect on the work accomplished since the last interval, highlighting successes and identifying areas in need of improvement, with the ultimate aim to adjust behavior and become more effective as a team. When performed consistently, retrospectives work to keep the project moving, align teams on a direction, and keep communication lines flowing.

Retrospectives do not just benefit the project team. They are powerful tools in cultivating a true partnership between an agency and its client, by setting standards of communication, and methods for problem-solving alignment.


How can retrospectives improve my partnerships?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are three reasons why you should be sure to make retrospectives a regular occurrence within your project’s lifecycle:

1. Foundation of communication. | Every project team develops a culture all its own, with different ways connecting and achieving alignment. However, performing consistent retrospectives sets a foundation and a method of communication necessary for the ultimate success of any partnership. Having consistent, open dialogue on each project level that allows everyone to be heard eliminates the need for potentially unnecessary back-channel conversations as the project and relationship progresses. This open style of communication can then become the standard of communication across the account, laying the foundation for the partnership.

2. Sharpen the blade. | Performing retrospectives on a consistent basis is like sharpening the problem-solving blade for the partnership. Each retrospective will provide small problems to align around and find solutions for. Doing this consistently keeps teams sharp. Practice makes perfect, and cultivating a partnership that is well versed in identifying problems and aligned around solutions can be the key to working together through those larger, unexpected, and more complex issues.

3. Smoke detector. | Issues that derail a partnership do not appear out of nowhere. There is smoke before there is fire and retrospectives can be a smoke detector that helps teams identify and address issues before they end up needing to call in the firefighters. When retrospectives are performed on a consistent basis, themes emerge; they might exist in-between the post-it notes or in passing comments made during a discussion. If you are cognizant of them, you can make sure they are tackled head-on before they even become a full-fledged problem.


Sounds good, right?! Now what?

Here are some tips to start implementing this practice with your project team and account reviews.

Begin by identifying the right timing and intervals to hold the retrospectives. For agile teams, this generally falls after demonstration days or prior to sprint planning. For account reviews, this can occur quarterly or after consistent releases.

The process

Here’s a general process for conducting a retrospective once you get everyone together:

  1. Divide your whiteboard in two sections; ‘What went well’ and ‘Things to Improve’.
  2. Hand out Post-It notes and pens to all the team members and give them 10 to 15 minutes to reflect, write, and place their items in the corresponding column.
  3. As the writing starts winding down, spend some time grouping post-it notes into themes and get ready to facilitate the discussion.
  4. Starting with ‘Things to Improve’, walk the board identifying themes as they arise. Encourage discussion amongst the team to get to the root of each issue. Identify possible steps to be taken to improve each identified issue. Finally, choose two or three specific issues that the team will work together to solve before the next retrospective.
  5. Now move on to ‘What went well’. Walk the board, identifying themes and encourage team members to expand on what they wrote and celebrate those items that are going well.
  6. Before concluding the meeting, make sure that everyone is clear on the next steps regarding the issues  that need to be addressed.
  7. As a lead, make it your goal to follow up on these identified issues or themes you are sensing prior to the next retrospective.

What if you can’t get your team all in one room? Don’t worry. When your team is remote there are cool tools like Fun Retro that can assist in the process, many of which even help in the documentation of the steps.


Aiding alignment

As you can see, retrospectives are not complicated in structure and the benefits are immense. I encourage you to utilize a regular cadence of retrospectives within your production cycle and as a part of your account reviews with clients…specifically those with multiple stakeholders. By facilitating this type of open conversation, you will lay a foundation of communication, prepare your team and your partnership to tackle problems together, and detect otherwise unnoticeable issues before they get out of hand.


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