Techniques for Improving Sprint Retrospectives – Part 2

After presenting some basic retrospective techniques in the first part of this article, Jesus Mendez provides in the second part some additional techniques that focuses on the facilitating part of the Scrum sprint retrospectives.

Author: Jesus Mendez, Certified Agile Coach, http://www.jesusmendez.ca/

In my previous article “Techniques for improving sprint retrospectives – Part 1”, we talk about the foundations of a sprint retrospective. We touched base to share my view about the What, When and What for of the sprint retrospective. We have also shared some techniques that could help you help your teams to get the best out of it, focusing on the forming stage of an agile team’s journey.

This second part is mainly focused on the facilitator stand and some additional techniques to help you continue adding value to the team’s continuous improvement journey.

The facilitator stand

To get the best out a sprint retrospective, mastering facilitation techniques is a must. There are things that you might need to consider in order to become the kind of leader that inspires a team to become a great one, like those that I’ve mentioned in my article “Tips4 leaders – 3 Things to consider when facilitating” for example. But further than that, facilitation requires preparation, repetition and training. That is why I strongly recommend you to dive in into Ingrid Bens [1] books about facilitation. I can guarantee you that your perspective about what facilitation means and all that it involves, will definitely change forever.

Scrum Agile Project Management

More techniques for improving the sprint retrospective

1) Be flexible but firm. There is only one chance to be part of the forming stage of the team that you are working with, so please make it count. I have found myself trying to guide the team’s journey and trying to set my mark by telling them what to do and when. Please don’t do that, it is a mistake. Instead I would invite you to be flexible and let the team begin their quest for self-transcendence [2]. Set the example, but open the space for craziness and joy. To make it worthwhile, celebrate different behaviors, laugh together, enjoy the moment and be there for them.

2) Keep the Team Cheerful. Motivated people are open for learning, which leads to more creativity and innovation. So be up to it and cheer them up, but pay close attention and please be authentic. Feel it, so you can inspire them to feel it too.
a. How to do it? When forming an agile team, I focus on creating good habits by building solid structures that the team can use for the duration of the project. One of those structures is arriving on time to meetings, so for those that do, I take time to congratulate them publicly in order to encourage that behavior within the full complement of the team. I like to focus retrospectives on positives and analyze results from a continual improvement perspective, so the team will get used to creating with positive thinking.
b. Suggested attitude. Be genuine and connected with what happened during the iteration. Be compassionate with others, help to engage what matters to the team members and it will help you and the team to trust each other.

3) Support improvement. Invite the agile team to guide their destiny and own the space, by inspiring them with open-ended powerful questions [3] like: what do you think we could do better? What are the possibilities? Be there for them to support their ideas and proposals, and help to facilitate the opportunity for them to become leaders for the team and the organization.

4) Celebrate experimentation, it brings winning or learning. At this stage of the team’s development journey, people try to get to know each other to understand who does what and how. Given that, people will try things to test limits and boundaries, as a way to find their place within the group, and that is great. Celebrate those moments when people make suggestions or bring ideas for improvement. Open a discussion and help the team to listen to the proposals. When people experiment, there are two potential outcomes: getting what you were expecting or learning something new. In both cases, there is learning for the team, and that knowledge becomes what makes the team resilient in the future. It will allow growing and willingness to try new things; it will battle fear and mitigate anxiety and make the team stronger over time.

5) Learn about the team.
a. Timing: It is really important that you learn when it is the best time to say something to the team. Timing matters! When it refers to working in groups, it could elevate or destroy the relationship between you and them. It unites or separates people, so please be patient when observing team dynamics, and how people relate to each other. Retrospectives are great for that.
b. Tone: Using an appropriate voice tone is crucial when approaching the team, so invest the time to learn what tone fits better for each specific occasion and person in the team. Again, retrospectives are amazing for this.
c. Personalities & motivation: I like to take the time with each team member so I can get to know each one and also, for each one to get to know me, building a better interpersonal relationship. I would do that by meeting one on one during lunchtime or even outside of the organization if needed, as a way to get ready for the iteration retrospective. You will be surprised about how much insight you will get from getting closer to each team member and learning who they are.

References

1. Ingrid Bens, Facilitation Techniques, http://ca.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-302478.html?query=Ingrid+Bens

2. The new product development game, Hirotaka Takeuchi, Harvard Business Reviews, https://hbr.org/1986/01/the-new-new-product-development-game

3. Powerful questions for Agile Teams, Lyssa Adkins, http://www.coachingagileteams.com/2008/04/15/agile/powerful-questions-for-agile-teams/

About the Author

Jesus Mendez a professional Scrum Master/Product Owner and Certified Agile Coach with 15 years of experience in IT projects, who nurtures from people’s interactions, passionate about helping Scrum Masters survive and thrive by connecting them to their most authentic self. He is the author of the workbook “Forming Agile teams” which presents you techniques for structuring and get sustainable Agile teams high-performance ready. Visit http://www.jesusmendez.ca/books/forming_agile_teams/.

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