Finance & Operations

Customize your Approach to Retrospectives

September 20, 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.

As with all practices there are many approaches that can lead to a successful effort.

The level of formality of the meetings depends on the team and the company; meetings can range from conference rooms to teams huddling in a work area to teams going out for pizza and beer.

A general approach for conducting a retrospective with a team entails the following:

  • Assign a facilitator
  • Set an agenda that provides the questions in advance
  • Schedule the meeting for as soon after an event ends as possible while the experience is still fresh
  • Set the meeting for 1 to 3 hours, with 1 hour often being ideal
  • Ensure that all team members are present
  • Ensure that everyone knows the ground rules in advance
  • Everyone says what worked and why
  • Everyone says what did not work and why
  • Everyone offers ways to improve
  • The team prioritizes 3 areas to improve upon (other ideas can be put into backlog)
  • The team members thank and/or apologize to each other where appropriate
  • The facilitator follows up to ensure that the 3 items have been acted upon

Method 1: Cards

Newer teams may be more comfortable writing their input on 3×5 cards. Next, the facilitator reads the first group of cards (what went well) and then the second (what needs to be improved); he or she then asks the group to identify themes and records them on a flip chart or other visible surface. The team votes on important themes, prioritizes them for discussion, and identifies three actionable improvement items.

Method 2: Brainstorming Discussion

The team discusses all the things that went well and the facilitator records them under a heading entitled “pluses” on a visible writing surface. Next, the team discusses what needs to change and the facilitator records those items under “deltas.” As the discussion proceeds, the team members become inspired and offer ideas to be recorded under “action items.” The team then identifies three actionable improvement items.

Next week, I’ll share some insights on who should be involved in retrospectives as well as the recommended roles.

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.