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.