Ah, the sprint retrospective. When I first joined Made and found out about retrospectives (I’d never had one before), I couldn’t conceive of the idea that there would be any value in such a thing! So you’re telling me, I said, that we get together and do group exercises? Not about the work that we’re about to do, but work we’ve already done? I assumed that it must be a whine-fest about tasks we found tricky, or rationalising out loud about why something took so long to do. I was wrong.
In one of my earliest retrospectives, we drew a quick graph of how happy we were over the course of the sprint. This turns out to have similarities and perhaps even roots in/with provably helpful mindfulness exercises that are outside the scope of this article, but are worth looking up all the same. The graph of how happy I was with the sprint would be similar to the graph of how productive I was during the sprint, if we were to plot that. We then went over why we were happy or unhappy at different times. Agile is all about continuously improving processes, and if there’s no retrospective, there’s no way to identify patterns and pain points that could be smoothed over for subsequent sprints. The happiness graph is a great way to get to the bottom of things that might need fixing or changing in your existing processes.
In another retrospective, we participated in an exercise that was pretty cheesy at the time, but its benefits far outweighed its cheesiness. At this sprint retrospective there was the product owner from the client’s company, and two developers including me. Our scrum master told us to come up with our favourite work-related thing to say about the person next to us going clockwise, and then again going counter-clockwise. I didn’t understand why we were doing it at the time, only that it was nice to be complimented by my teammate and client. Later I realised that quick ‘bonding sessions’ like this had really started to help with communication, not only amongst the team but with the client as well. It’s hard to be standoffish with someone you’ve shared such a cheesy experience with.
Another retrospective idea I liked a lot was a very simple one. We were told to highlight something we thought we could improve upon based on performance in the last sprint and turn it into a poster. We deliberately were not allowed to use computers or Photoshop. Nowadays, adults seem to be so starved for the ability to express anything with pencil and paper that there’s been a huge upswing in publishers publishing colouring books for adults. Drawing and colouring, aside from being therapeutic, really makes you focus on the idea that you’re trying to express. I had been storing up commits a bit that sprint, so my poster said ‘PUSH EARLY AND OFTEN’, with a big arrow. Taking 15 minutes to write something really makes you think about it. This, again, is linked with the idea of mindfulness.
So there are a few retrospectives that I liked. There were plenty of others, but those were three that really stood out in my mind. They all serve a serious purpose, as well as being, believe it or not, pretty good fun. Try them out!