8 Tips on Conducting Better Retrospectives

October 11, 2010

This is a part of a series that was cre­at­ed to help you get the prac­tice of ret­ro­spec­tives built into your com­pany.  This series will walk through the approach, nec­es­sary roles, in addi­tion to guides for each role to help your com­pany get started quickly.

8 Common Challenges within Retrospectives (and Tips to Improve)

Lack of buy-in and/or commitment from the top.

This will make your employees believe that it is not a priority. Communicate to employees why you are doing this and the benefits you expect to achieve. Allot the proper time for retrospectives. Ensure that teams are staying disciplined with the practice and not rushing through the process.

People may perceive that reflections are about individual performance and assigning blame.

This causes your employees to become overly self protective. Reinforce that retrospectives are about team performance, not individual performance, and about finding ways to improve. A key benefit is that when done right, reflections make teams stronger, not the reverse.

People won’t say what is truly on their minds.

For many different reasons – some cultural, some managerial, some interpersonal – people won’t say what is truly on their minds. It takes time to build a climate of trust. But if the team members fail to speak the truth, the improvements will never be as good as they could be. If there are certain people you know are not being honest, take them aside to talk in private about their concerns.

The meetings get off track.

The facilitator should set and enforce ground rules. The meetings should be structured to prevent team members from rambling and going off topic. Facilitation is both a skill and an art; facilitators need training, but they also should have a natural gift for communicating.

No ideas for improvement are offered.

At Toyota, even if a project is successful, a hansei-kai (reflection meeting) still takes place. They have a saying that “no problem is a problem,” and believe that no matter how good something is, there is always something that can be improved. If the team is stuck, the facilitator can uncover problems by asking “why” many times over while discussing how a project or process unfolded.

Ideas for improvement are given, but are not specific enough.

The facilitator should get the team members to make specific statements. For example, a general statement such as “we need faster service from our proofreader,” could be reframed as “our proofreader needs to e-mail the marked-up proofs to John within 24 hours.”

Too many ideas for improvement are offered.

Team members should choose 3 areas to focus on and immediately implement. The facilitator should put the additional ideas into an idea backlog for further discussion at the next retrospective.

No follow-up is implemented

If there is no follow-up on the recommended improvements, the team members will question the point of the meetings. The facilitator should follow up to ensure that the improvements are made and report the results back to the team. All of the ideas for improvement should be recorded in some type of shared knowledge database.

Next week, I’ll begin sharing how to get started on an individual and team level. Checklists and quick start guides will help you begin initiating retrospectives in your company.

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.