This article explains how teams benefit from retrospectives by finding those improvement actions that matter to them, and help them to do their work better.

You probably remember a time when your company announced another improvement program. It would address the business needs, and solve major problems that the company was facing. And you probably wondered if it would solve your problems? And if so, how it intended to do that?

Instead of waiting for some improvement program, why not use agile retrospectives to take control of your own improvement journey? Solve the problems that hamper you and your team, that you consider important to solve! One of the benefits of agile retrospectives is that they give you the power to do it!

Many large improvement programs fail. Not because of the people who manage them. They are often capable and know how to manage change. And they have assured management commitment and funding. But what they are lacking is buy-in from “the workforce”,  from the people in the projects and teams.

Agile retrospectives take a significantly different approach, as they are owned and done by the agile team. They decide where and how they change their way of working, instead of having it dictated by managers or quality/process people. And yes, you can get business value out of agile retrospectives. Just show the team what the company is aiming at, and let them decide how to contribute to it.

Teams lead their own improvement journey

Retrospectives empower the team to control their own destiny. They use them to solve problems that the team considers to be the biggest hurdles. They can improve at their own pace, do as little or as much that they consider possible. Managers should enable and support teams in doing retrospectives. They expect their teams to improve, but it is up to the team what they improve and what they decide not to improve (now). A manager must respect the judgment of their employees, and rely on their professionalism to have them manage their own journey. If they need people outside the team, like their manager or any support department then it is up to them to involve them. The team should make clear what they expect and why, and how the things they need to have done help the team. Also, they should check their expectations, is there something that their manager or support department is able and willing to do? It’s important to know what is possible and prevent any false expectations.

Example: how coaches and facilitators can help teams improve

One organization that I worked with had several coaches that supported the Scrum teams on improving themselves.

There was a group of skilled retrospective facilitators that teams could ask to run their retrospective (or they could have one of their own team members do it, up to them). The facilitator would take the team needs as a starting point, and use an appropriate technique to come to improvement actions that help the team. The agile coaches helped the team with regular agile self-assessments, enabling them to become more agile and lean. The team could see how they were progressing on their agile journey, and decide what would be their next step. The agile coaches and retrospective facilitators both reported to management about the overall progress of the agile transition, and on any common issues that they saw in multiple teams. They also advised management on things that they could do to help the teams to improve their performance. They didn’t report on individual teams, unless specifically requested by a team. In such cases they did it together with the team members and managers, to find solutions to the problems that the team wanted to solve.

Finding improvement actions that matter!

The fact that the team owns the agile retrospective brings major benefits to them. It helps them to focus where they see the need to improve, to solve issues that hamper their progress and to become a stronger team. Agile retrospectives give the power to the team, where it belongs! You can read more about the benefits of retrospectives in the book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, a book with many exercises that you can use to facilitate retrospectives, supported with the “why”, “what” and “how” of retrospectives, the business value and benefits that they can bring you, and advice for introducing and improving retrospectives.

About Ben

As an adviser, coach, and trainer he helps organizations with deploying effective software development and management practices. He focuses on continuous improvement, collaboration and communication, and professional development, to deliver business value to customers.

Ben is an active member of networks on Agile, Lean, and Quality, and a well-known speaker and author. He shares his experiences in a bilingual blog (Dutch and English), as an editor for Culture and Methods at InfoQ, and as an expert in communities like Computable, Quora, DZone, and TechTarget. Follow him on twitter: @BenLinders.

Ben Linders

Ben Linders

Ben Linders is an Independent Consultant in Agile, Lean, Quality, and Continuous Improvement, based in The Netherlands. Author of Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, Waardevolle Agile Retrospectives, What Drives Quality and Continuous Improvement. Creator of the Agile Self-assessment Game.
Ben Linders

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