Retrospectives – Information for the curious

Retrospectives – Information for the curious

You are currently viewing Retrospectives – Information for the curious

Project Retrospectives – A Handbook for Team Reviews, by Norm Kerth

Sort of the “Godfather” of the modern day, agile retrospective is Norm Kerth. I always try and mention norm and his work as a means of giving folks a sense of the pre-Agile legacy of retrospectives. Point being, it pre-dates agile approaches.

The other nice thing about Norm’s work is his notion of “safety” in retrospectives and his Prime Directive. I almost always reference the prime directive at one point or another with each of my clients and in my teaching. It epitomizes the “mindset” of a healthy retrospective.

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

–Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews

Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larson

Esther Derby and Diana Larsen wrote the next book on the topic. They respectfully built on the work that Norm did, but this is also the first treatment of the topic that has an agile-centric focus. Both authors are incredibly well respected agile coaches, so that deep and broad experience seeps into every corner of the book.

The Retrospective Handbook – A Guide for Agile Teams, by Partick Kua and Getting Value our of Agile Retrospectives – A Toolbox of Retrospective Exercises, by Ben Linders and Luis Goncalves.

More recently, there are two books that have continued to build on the foundation of the first two. Both are by well-respected agile practitioners and coaches.

I personally have all 4 books in my agile library. I consider the first two to be foundational and seminal in nature. The second two add to the flavor and bring ongoing learning’s into play.

While I’ve not attended one of these, there is a limit to the time one has for agile, there is an annual facilitators retreat that I’ve heard great things about. It’s a group of agile and non-agile coaches who are interested in the power of and facilitating group reflection. It’s usually a weeklong event and run as an Open Space.

Here are some links where you can get more information about it.

As you can see, the event is typically not advertised, but spread word-of-mouth. If you’re interested in attending, you should reach out to a previous attendee and get connected to the “network”.

Here’s a list of some tools that support retrospectives. Many are free to use…

I happen to be fond of the (**) tools for retrospectives. In the case of IdeaBoardz, that seems to be it’s primary purpose. Linoit is a simple “board” and Trello is more general purpose for planning, Kanban, etc.

From my perspective, the key function of any retrospective tool is taking a back seat to the collaboration, discovery, and discussions. It can’t get in the way or make things cumbersome.

Here’s a link to a nice list of additional tools:

Planning tool

I came upon Retromat about a year ago. What’s great about it is that it doesn’t facilitate the retrospective; it’s not that sort of tool. It instead helps you plan each of your retrospectives. It has a 5-phase model for retrospectives and a repository of different techniques (approaches, games, models, etc.) for each phase.

What’s particularly interesting about Retromat is the number of really cool techniques in its database. Not only can it help you keep your retrospectives fresh and interesting, but you can also use it as a “Retrospective Oracle” for learning new facilitation techniques.

I highly recommend your taking a look. And also thank Corinna Baldauf for pulling the whole thing together!

Retrospective Conversations Sheets

Allan Kelly has provided some retrospective guidance via Dialogue Sheets. It’s a fixed way to run a retrospective, but you might find it helpful in the early stages of doing them.

Here’s a link to the sheets:

Websites & Blogs

Here’s a blog post I wrote on the topic of “safety” within retrospectives –

And here are simply some useful and related articles that you might find helpful.

Distributed Retrospectives

BIG Retrospectives

I’m currently writing a new article on how to run a large, organizational-level retrospective at the end of a release. This would be similar to those recommended by SAFe, but my own twist based on my experience. Look for that to coming out soon.

A year or so ago I presented a 2-hour Agile Testing workshop to a large local company. There were about 75 testers in the audience, which represented about 30-40 Scrum teams. I don’t remember how it came up, but at one point someone talked about dropping their team retrospectives and asking me what I thought about it.

I quickly polled the audience, just to see if anyone else has made a similar decision. To my horror and surprise, about half the group had opted out of doing retrospectives at the end of their sprints.

The overwhelming reason (excuse) was that they were boring and ineffective. My hope in pulling together these references is to help ScrumMasters and other facilitators to avoid ineffective retrospectives.

From my perspective, there is nothing more central to agile teams than experimentation and continuous improvement. And retrospectives are the centerpiece of those efforts.

As Yoda would say, there is no try. Do them. Do them well. And prosper.

Stay agile my friends,


Leave a Reply