Broken Agile Retrospectives & How to Fix Them — Part 2/6 | Will Jeffrey | Skillshare

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Broken Agile Retrospectives & How to Fix Them — Part 2/6

teacher avatar Will Jeffrey, Because Agile Matters

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

15 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Course Overview

    • 2. #1 All Talk, No Action

    • 3. #2 All Action, No Talk

    • 4. #3 Conversation Too Controlled

    • 5. #4 Too Repetitive

    • 6. #5 No Preparation

    • 7. #6 Too Many Goals

    • 8. #7 Poorly Formed Actions

    • 9. #8 One Person Owns All Actions

    • 10. #9 Too Much Time Complaining

    • 11. #10 Too Much Bullying

    • 12. #11 No Participation

    • 13. #12 Nothing Change

    • 14. #13 Because Agile Says So

    • 15. Wrapping Up

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About This Class

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This class is intended as an aid to running more effective sprint retrospectives. Thirteen common smells, or ailments, have been discussed when it comes to agile retrospective. Here they are:

  • All talk, no action
  • All action, no talk
  • Conversation too controlled
  • Too repetitive
  • No preparation
  • Too many goals
  • Poorly formed actions
  • One person owns all actions
  • Too much time complaining
  • Too much bullying
  • No participation
  • Nothing change
  • Because Agile says so

For each of them is detailed symptoms to detect the potential issue, and how to cure it.

This course applies to Agile projects (scrum, kanban, xp, lean), but also to all projects that involve working as a team, managing conflict and increase productivity. 


  • Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, Esther Derby & Diana Larsen
  • The Retrospective Handbook, Patrick Kua
  • Improving Agile Retrospectives, Marc Loeffler
  • Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, Sam Kaner 

Please don't forget to leave a review. Thanks!

Meet Your Teacher

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Will Jeffrey

Because Agile Matters


Will Jeffrey and his wife currently live in France. He earned a Master's degree in Management Information Systems from the Sorbonne Business School in Paris. He is a member of the Agile Alliance and a Professional Agile Trainer certified by the prestigious International Consortium for Agile® and™.

Over the last 20 years, he has trained and coached hundreds of people, including Fortune 500 leaders and teams, startups, and entrepreneurial organizations.

Will is a skilled author of online business courses who consistently offers his experience on Scrum, Agile, and Lean with his 7000+ LinkedIn followers and 500 000+ post views each year, in addition to agile coaching and training.

You are warmly welcome to join my LinkedIn and Skillshare... See full profile

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1. Course Overview: Hi, everyone. My name is well, Jeffrey, and welcome to my course on agile retrospective How to overcome 13 common smells. I am an agile coach, helping teams to get better and doing what they love. Holding an effective and productive retrospective is truly an art. This requires a number of skills on the part of the facilitator. Many facilitators who are new and facilitating retrospectives find it hard to handle it, keeping the sensitive nature of this exercise and keeping the emotional aspect in mind. One needs to be really creative, courageous while managing the team doing retrospective. Even with the best intentions, the right facilitator and ideal conditions. Retrospectives air rarely perfect. This class details a number of common retrospective smells that are surface indications that usually correspond to a deeper problem. In this class, we're going to cover the following smells all talk, no action very well, talking about problems, what occurred and why. But no solution comes out all action. No talk too quick on deciding what to do that leads to different plans of action. Conversation to controlled facilitator has an interest in the conversation outcome negatively impacted to repetitive format, predictable and dull. No preparation. No agenda to start with too many goals. Retrospective goal. Not clear. Going all over the place. Poorly formed. Actions too big to accomplish or not assigned in this assume that will be dealt with by others. One person owns all actions. Always the same team member rested the team. Not involved. Too much time complaining. Too much time is spent complaining, blaming or finger pointing. Too much bullying conversation dominated by one or two team members. No participation. Team members Air present but are not participating. Nothing changed the same issues or topics keep coming up because Angela says so Team is just having a retrospective because Angela or Scrum says, so. Team is distracted or not fully participating for each one of those we're going to discuss . What are the symptoms to recognize the smell and more importantly, what can we do to cure it? 2. #1 All Talk, No Action: Let's discuss now the first smell. All talk, no action. As Donald Trump said, I've been dealing with politicians all my life. They're all talk, no action. I have talked with numerous people who dislike retrospectives, and I think the one thing they had in common was the feeling that the changes promised never happened. They felt that it was all very well, talking about problems, what occurred and why. But when they tried to find solutions, the same things came up again and again. Other facilitators have spoken to, and I have good reasons for holding retrospectives that don't focus exclusively on action items, primarily because they offer a useful arena for different team members to better relate to each other's problems in situations. At the same time, you want to avoid creating situations where participants feel unable to work on their problems or to make any progress regardless of whether problems persist or not. Retrospectives. Air useful for highlighting these problems like information radiators, retrospectives highlight where pain points lie. They do not make the pain disappear automatically. The question I ask is, what did you do to make the problem go away, and how did you approach fixing your own problems. I've seen retrospectives where the actions were dependent on people not involved in the retrospective changing external conditions. Some useful techniques for dealing with this include the plan of action or by allocating enough time to focus explicitly on the what next steps focus on creating actions that team members themselves have. The ability to act on work on smaller, more specific actions to ensure it least some incremental progress is made. Sometimes that's enough to get things started. 3. #2 All Action, No Talk: the second smell while action No talk. This section is well illustrated by Terry McMillan. If you jump to conclusions, you make terrible landings. This is the corollary to the previous, all talk no action. A retrospective that focuses too quickly on deciding what to do often ends disastrously, with too many people suggesting different plans of action. The most common reason behind this scenario is that the team doesn't have a shared view of what happened. Ah, focus on trying to take action often means that everyone sees the problem or status quo differently. This basis means that people naturally have different suggestions to give because they're trying to solve different problems. There are other downsides to running a retrospective. Focus purely on what to do next. Sometimes people just need to have their side of the story heard. Retrospectives should provide a safe environment where everyone can be expected to contribute. Team members may see someone differently after listening to them share their part of the story, and perhaps gain a better understanding of someone's motives. Rushing people to suggest actions doesn't allow for this opportunity, which is especially important when teams air fresh to working with each other. Avoid this anti pattern by making sure you follow the five stages, which are set the stage. Gather data generate insights. Decide what to Dio and Leslie. Close the retrospective managed time appropriately by dedicating the same length of time to gathering data as to generating insight. Don't rush any of the stages, but do make sure you allow enough time for deciding what to dio. 4. #3 Conversation Too Controlled: the third smell is conversation, too controlled, Simon Sinica's said Ah, Boss, who Micro manages is like a coach who wants to get in the game. Readers guide and support and then sit back to cheer from the sidelines. One of the most important points that curve, Larson and Derby all stress in their books is that the facilitator should not have an interest in the conversation. Or, as I heard it succinctly put, If you have a point of view to share, you should not be facilitating. If you break this golden rule, it will have a negative impact on the retrospective. I've seen this happen myself, and it is usually because a person who already holds a position of authority think project manager, technical or team lead is facilitating. A project manager was running one retrospective I attended, they pointed and people to ask them for a single item. What went well slash less well. They would often drill a person insisting on more detail and then would comment on their input along the lines of. That's a pretty stupid idea, or you really should have done instead of before turning to write the item up on a flip chart. When they had finished, they selected which topics they wanted to discuss further without involving the group In the decision making process, I observed a gas but silent as people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They wanted to get their stories out in the open, but we're afraid it wouldn't lead anywhere, productive and worse that they might be judged for it. Ah, facilitator who controls the conversation will often find little valuable output other than meeting their own needs, which is not a healthy situation at all. In my opinion, it's probably wiser to have no retrospective at all than an unhealthy one. Strategies that I would employ to prevent such a situation include using an independent facilitator with no vested interest to run the retrospective, collecting input with sticky notes to improve anonymity and efficiency, and spending more time on drawing out the story behind the items to identify any common root causes 5. #4 Too Repetitive: Let's talk about the fourth smell. The retrospective is too repetitive. One day, lowest, Wise said. Most meetings air too long, too dull to unproductive and too much a part of corporate life to be abandoned. Regular heartbeat retrospectives become an essential part of the agile teams toolkit. Doing such regular retrospectives inevitably leads to some repetition, and it can occasionally get boring for some team members. I could entirely sympathize with being bored by a retrospective. There are any number of reasons why a retrospective might get boring. One might be that no major issues are being raised, to which I would respond by holding the retrospectives less frequently every fortnight instead of every week, for example, another reason might be that the standard format of what went well, less well and sometimes puzzles becomes predictable and dull. Here are nine strategies you can try bring food at the retrospective. In fact, sharing food builds relationships and often leads to better conversations. Asking essentially the same question in different words is effective in changing the tone of the retrospective and keeps it engaging for participants, combining the questions with the metaphor supported by a visual guide such as a diagram on a white board or flip chart helps people think about things from a slightly different perspective. Often adding to the discussion at Energizer is a short activity. Say 5 to 10 minutes designed to get people on their feet to get the blood flowing After a heavy lunch and more ready to contribute to the session at hand, introduced one new exercise per retrospective. To keep insides fresh, look for exercises that the team hasn't used before or try creating a new retrospective. Exercise yourself. Be sure to write it up and share it with the community. When people start to automatically head to the same seats when they enter, they develop a habit. This isn't necessarily bad in itself, but it could be if their habit is to slump into their chair with a slightly glazed expression. Consider switching room, if possible, to keep the surroundings different. If alternative rooms are not available, change the room layout and the way participants it triggering the use of other skills helps participants feel more immersed in the retrospective experience, and I can find the conversations and discussions are much richer as a result. Encourage people to get up and walk around during the retrospective and to use their hands as well as their eyes to inspect. Others work. Look for manual activities that require people to build draw paint or constructive visual model of some sort. Seek activities that require abstraction, metaphor and story telling as a facilitator. Do anything you can to make the retrospective appear less like a formal meeting. Think about asking people to leave their jackets of their desks or include an activity that involves some informal play to break the corporate atmosphere. 6. #5 No Preparation: the fifth smell is no preparation. Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation. Ziegler ever been in a meeting where the organizer doesn't really know why they have brought everyone together or doesn't even have an agenda to start with? It devalues your time and you feel frustrated. I've seen the same thing happened when a facilitator hasn't prepared for their retrospective. Preparing well demonstrates respect for participants. Time preparation doesn't guarantee success, but it certainly means that participants are much more likely to engage, which makes the facilitation a lot easier than it would be otherwise. One of the main reasons that agile facilitators don't prepare is because they're too busy performing their other day to day rolls and don't realize they should be putting in the time to prepare. Facilitators need to be aware that for a retrospective to run well, the facilitator must allocate time to prepare. They need time to plan the session, gather the required materials, set up the room and create the space that will host the retrospective discussions. Use the preparation checklist and make sure you have time to address all of those issues. Whatever you do, don't leave it all until the last minute 7. #6 Too Many Goals: six smell too many goals. Zig Ziglar also said a gold properly said his halfway reached teams run retrospectives for different reasons. I found that trying to meet too many goals in a heartbeat retrospective severely limits its effectiveness. When I prepare for retrospectives, one of the first things I do is ask the sponsor, the person who asked me to facilitate what they want to achieve. Sometimes they don't know themselves. So just asking the question is a useful exercise to get them to clarify their intended goals. When I've sat in teams new two retrospectives and the goal is not made clear, people bring up too many different issues, and it's difficult to resolve anything. One hour seems to be the most the teams are willing to set aside. And when you have team issues, technical issues, process issues and more to deal with the time flies, the result is that nothing gets improved and people get frustrated with the vehicle that brings some visibility. The retrospective. If you find yourself with too many goals, introduce a limit or a theme to the retrospective. Make this clear at the outset and make sure everyone is okay to proceed on that basis, using themed retrospectives could be problematic in its own right is you don't get to address issues that lie just outside the theme. 8. #7 Poorly Formed Actions: seven smell poorly formed actions, according to T. Harv Eker. Thoughts lead to feelings. Feelings lead to actions. Action leads to results sometimes leave their retrospectives all energized and enthused for change. They take their actions on Lee toe, look at them later and find that they don't really understand what was intended. They could also figured out that the action is too big to accomplish. At other times, the team members assumed that the actions will be dealt with by other team members, and they never get carried out. Before you leave the retrospective, ensure that actions match up to the smart qualities specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time boxed. Ask the team if they really think they will be able to complete these actions before the next retrospective end. Ensure that each one hasn't explicitly assigned owner. 9. #8 One Person Owns All Actions: a smell. One person owns all actions in climbing. Having confidence in your partners is no small concern. One. Climbers actions can affect the welfare of the entire team. From John Krakauer. It's quite common for some teams to come out of a retrospective with only one person, possibly the technical lead, project manager or scrum master, having taken ownership of all the actions. While it's not a problem in itself, if a pattern starts to develop, it creates a sense that change is possible only through a single person with authority, which then makes other team members feel less empowered. This defeats the object of the retrospective work with a group to ensure that ownerships of actions are shared out evenly over a number of retrospectives assigned to owners to work together on each action. So more people are actively involved celebrate actions completed by new people at the start of the next retrospective in order to incentivize others to get involved 10. #9 Too Much Time Complaining: the night. Smell too much time complaining, John Wooden has said. Champions never complain. They're too busy getting better in these retro is too much time is spent complaining, blaming or finger pointing. The team has forgotten the prime directive of the retrospective. It reads. Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resource is available and the situation at hand. When emotions are running higher, projects become stressful. It can cause the team members to focus on the negative, and often you see a domino effect within a group simply forbidding people from complaining or telling them to think positive doesn't do much and can sometimes have the opposite effect. Research has found that the key to reducing complaints is to make sure the team feels like they were treated fairly and issues were dealt with equally in retrospectives. This means striving for equal input from team members and clearly communicating expectations. If the complaints focus on external factors outside the team, it's important to bring the team back to what can we do? What can we influence. What do we just have to accept? Move the discussion away from complaints and refocus it on what the team can influence in the near future? 11. #10 Too Much Bullying: the 10th smell too much bullying courage is fire and bullying a smoke. Benjamin Disraeli, One or two team members, air dominating the conversations in the retrospective. This behavior is often a sign of either a week or uninterested scrum master. The retrospective needs to be a safe place where everyone, introverts included, can address issues and provide his or her feedback freely. This failure will result in participants dropping out of the retrospective and render the results obsolete. It is the main responsibility of the scrum master to ensure that everyone will be heard and has an opportunity to voice his or thoughts. These can be tricky situations that are often delicate and context sensitive, and it takes a strong scrum master to feel comfortable enough to be honest about a situation like this here, a good understanding of office politics and knowing how to have difficult conversations. If you want to approach the team member in question, focus your conversation on the shared goal of continuous learning and rapid improvement. What's good for the team is good for the team member 12. #11 No Participation: the 11 smell. No participation Here is a quote from Noam Chomsky. Passivity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the honorable one. The team members are present but are not participating. The reasons for such a behavior. Maybe that they regard the retrospective a waste of time. It is an unsafe place or the participants are bored to death by its predictive ISS. If they don't see retrospectives leading to change, it's time to reevaluate. There is no quick fix. But instead of giving up the scrum, Master needs to figure out what kind of retrospective works in his or her organization's context. Trying to re engage the team by experimenting with your retrospectives, try varying formats or locations to shake up retrospectives. 13. #12 Nothing Change: the 12th smell. Nothing change. As Joyce Brothers has said. If you change nothing, nothing changes with these retrospectives. The same issues or topics keep coming up, and it starts to feel like nothing ever changes. When retrospective start feeling like Ground Hog Day, it's a sign that you're not moving the needle forward. It might be because your team is overwhelmed. Tasks aren't clear or actionable enough, or it could be due to external factors. You have less control over. When a scrum master experiences this, she should look at data from past retrospectives to spot patterns. She would be able to spot the items that came up again and again. But within the context of everything else, seeing the bigger picture can help provide good perspective for the team. Maybe they haven't moved the needle on one item, but they have made good progress on many others. If you suspect the issue might be that your team is overwhelmed trying ending your next retrospective with just one action item rather than a long list, commit to fixing that one thing as a team. Once you do, the team will feel accomplished thanks to a quick win, and you can build up to checking off more action items 14. #13 Because Agile Says So: the 13 smell is because Agile says so. So Martin Fowler said. I hope I've made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag. In this case, the team is just having a retrospective because agile or scrum says so. No one on the team is tuned into the retro, and instead they're distracted on their phones. Were not fully participating. When you have consultants or outsource teams, this could be an issue. Contractually, they may be obligated to fulfill certain requirements to get paid. This can also happen for in house teams two and a lot of times it's connected to the Didn't we already talk about this retro? If you don't see retro is leading to change, it's time to reevaluate. One of the common pitfalls is when teams are eager to run retrospectives just for the sake of running retrospectives. They know that if they're supposed to be agile, they need to do retrospectives. But it's not a simple is following a guideline. The need has to come from within. The team has to develop this intrinsic feeling of power to solve their problems and even more important, to accept the responsibility at this point some teams might just give up and stop doing retrospectives. But that's not the answer, because it will just set the team back further in terms of making positive improvements. Instead, try to re engage the team by experimenting with your retros. Try varying retro formats were locations to shake up retrospectives. If you're retro is co located, try standing instead of sitting around a table. Try shortening teams retros to 45 minutes and think of going back to an hour or when the team realizes extra time to discuss action items is needed. 15. Wrapping Up: as showed during this class. One can't cure anything. It's important to diagnose the smell based on the symptoms and try the cure on it. Then it involves regular inspection on your retrospectives to be able to adapt and cure potential smells. Good Retrospectives are a product of both avoiding dangerous smells and keeping your team's attention on identifying improvements and working towards positive change. By keeping doing so, you will succeed with retrospectives.