Visual sprint retrospective meetings

A visual way to look back and forward. How do you think we did last sprint?

Complex organizations are placed in a rapidly changing environment, so the process of solving a business problem, introducing a product, or reengineering a process requires constantly seeing the world in a new light and acting accordingly. It is not surprising then that we are talking about organisations as learning machines.

So, how do we implement that? Why not start at a micro level – having retrospective meetings.

Retrospective meetings have their basis in theory of agile methods. The idea is looking for lessons learned and methods of improvement. During this meeting, the team considers what went well, what didn’t, and what improvements could be made in the next sprint. So, rather than defining the process in retrospective meeting, you ask questions like

  • What did we do well?
  • What did we do less well
  • What still puzzles us

When you define problems or opportunities, actions should be quickly and efficiently transferred. To add on that, there is always a question of measurement. You need good tools for assessing an organization’s rate and level of learning to ensure that gains have in fact been made.

Visuals of retrospective meetings

By using agile approach in retrospective meetings, each team member is asked to identify specific things that the team should:

  • Start doing
  • Stop doing
  • Continue doing

Use a variety of colors to make topics easier to follow

So, the meeting is usually consisted of participants sitting across the room from each other, or from the wall where the activity output is displayed. Participants should write using a marker pen instead of an ordinary ballpoint pen. Markers tend to have thicker tips and use more ink than their ballpoint alternatives, which significantly improves visibility. They help to brighten up the activities and keep it more engaging. Colors also help people feel like retrospectives are different from other meetings.

Prepare the equipment. There’s nothing worse to spending half of your meeting searching for pens and markers

Use materials such as whiteboard markers, or flip chart paper. Always bring supplies such as tack or tape to hang materials so that you don’t have to resort to flipping through pages of a flip chart. Displaying materials helps participants visualize progress throughout the retrospective and is an easy way of referring back to previous points.

Break the corporate atmosphere – get into creative and open mode

Ask participants to think back to the last iteration and to draw a picture that summarizes their feeling about how it went. Given a short time limit and the average person’s drawing abilities, most pictures end up being rather abstract, made up of circles, boxes and lines with the occasional stick figure.

When using stickynotes, paper, physical whiteboards – bring a camera

Take a number of pictures of a flip chart, wall, or the room from different angles so you can choose the best image later. Taking photos is an effective way of capturing retrospective outputs and is much quicker than transcribing each and every word written up.

Adjust the meeting for a distributed team

There are practices in distributed retrospective where you have people calling in from various remote locations to the rest of the group. In one practice, a team allowed three extra chairs for the remote team in the meeting room, and on each chair was a large cuddly toy with a life-sized headshot photo attached to represent each of the people calling in. One team member, physically present in the retrospective, enthused about the interesting effect it had on the retrospective:

“It really felt like the three team members were present in the room. I think we were quicker to stop and listen to them when they spoke over the phone, as we imagined them physically being in the room.”

Pass along the people token to make sure everyone is involved

We at Deekit use the online collaborative whiteboard to capture everyone’s input. But everything is better when Mr. Bear is present, isn’t it?!

Retrospectives offer you and your team a safe haven for introspection and often prove to be the catalyst for change, and you can evolve your way to excel in any situation. All in all, try to make it less formal and look for manual activities that require people to build, draw, paint or construct a visual model.

Learn more on Retrospective wiki or books such as The Debrief Imperative by William Duke, Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. We also suggest following Linda Rising and her articles on retrospectives and agile development.

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