What is Preventing your Retrospectives from having an Impact?
Guest blog by Scott Maxwell, OpenView Partners.
Scott is the managing partner of OpenView and has introduced Scrum everywhere in the venture group and the portfolio companies. See Take no Prisoners: How a Venture Capital Group Does Scrum.
Retrospectives, and their close cousin After Action Reviews (AARs), are simple practices that offer you a quick, easy, and efficient way to continuously improve. They can be formal or informal, can take place after any action/project/initiative or on a regular schedule, and can be easily adapted to meet the needs of your organization.
Lack of buy-in and/or commitment from the top, which 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, and therefore 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.
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.