The Retrospective in Scrum

Bearing in mind Hofstede’s Dimensions.

The Retrospective is one of those personal meetings where I feel that my duty as a ScrumMaster is to enable each one of my Team members to freely voice his or her opinion. Another one of my tasks is – as always – to facilitate the smooth running of the meeting‘s moderation. Particularly when faced with a geographically dispersed Team, this can be somewhat of a challenge.
Thanks to Hofstede‘s cultural dimensions and personal experience, I have become particularly aware of the elements of individualism and power distance amongst different locations. Since my current Team covers six time zones and a couple of fascinating cultures, I am continuously trying to find the right approach to minimise the aspects of strong collectivism or large hierarchy without pushing any of my Team members into a situation where they might lose face.
One such way to hold a successful Retrospective is to divide up the Team into smaller groups and make sure that cultures, power and character traits are well mixed. This allows each Team member the possibility to voice his or her opinion and concerns on the last Sprint without the presence of the supervisor. Furthermore, I have found the medium of the chat rather fulfilling, as it enables my Team members to write more freely and speak more directly. In a chat session, nobody can be interrupted and language issues can be worked out more easily.

Building upon past Retrospectives, I would like to share some of my experience with you and guide you through a successful Retrospective with a geographically dispersed Team.

Start off by asking your Team members to prepare for the upcoming Retrospective by collecting their thoughts in a separate document prior to the Retrospective, from which they can then simply copy and paste into the chat. This ensures that the time spent chatting is used in the most efficient way.
The actual Retrospective is divided into two parts (depending on the size of your Team, you might even have three parts).
1) Split your Team into two hierarchically mixed-up, cross-cultural groups. Nominate one session moderator per group. Each group will have exactly 40 minutes to discuss and work through the following five topics by using chat.

Discussion #1

What specific events happened during the Sprint? (Split them up into when they happened: at the beginning, middle and end of the Sprint)
Explanation: Have your Team members write down three events that spring to their mind. Anything and everything, both personal and work-related things. The three events could be:

  • at beginning: my child was ill and cried 5 nights in a row so I got little sleep
  • in the middle: that day Team member X repaired the build
  • at the end: Team night on Wednesday.

Anything that comes to your Team members‘ minds when someone tells them to reflect on everything that has happened over the past 2 weeks should be noted down. At least three events would be good, since something always happens in one‘s life over the course of one Sprint!

Discussion #2

What went well? For example: we fixed lots of bugs, we started considering the Definition of Done prior to actually moving a Story to Done on the Taskboard, communication improved thanks to the new telephone system etc.
While Discussion #1 lists specific events (personal and/or business-related) from the perspective of an individual Team member, Discussion #2 names things that worked well for the Team within this Sprint, which would be good to see repeated in the next Sprint.

Discussion #3

What could be improved? Explanation: The Team members should list issues or things that happened in the last Sprint that need improving for the next Sprint.

Discussion #4

The Team members need to prioritise the list of items that came out of discussing #3 and select the top three things which need improving the most.

Discussion #5

Brainstorm on measures that can be derived from these top three future improvements and think about how to present them in the next session.
2) The next and final session of the Retrospective will take 40 minutes and include all Team members via telephone conference. Here, the prioritised results from Discussion #3 and the proposed measures from each group chat should be presented to the other Team members. Together, discuss these prioritised improvements and measures and make sure that you come out of the Retrospective with three overall top priority measures that can and will be acted upon by everyone in the next Sprint in order to improve the Team‘s productivity. The ScrumMaster may facilitate this final session.

Tips & Tricks

  • For some reason, I always get the same question: Why don‘t we combine Discussion #1 into Discussions #2 and #3?!

I believe that if Discussion #1 were to be left unaddressed, a major element of the Retrospective (the personal element) would be left out. Discussion #1 sometimes gives you a special insight into personal issues that may have “infiltrated” the Sprint without anyone‘s notice. Furthermore, it often unveils underlying Team issues that may not be addressed by Discussions #2 and #3. Consider the following situation: one of your Team members writes down the event „Tuesday I worked all throughout the night because I had to fix bug X. As a result, I was tired and irritated the next day.“ By reading this, the other Team members immediately realises that s/he is not the cranky person they had thought her/him to be, but rather that they have let down their Team member. Nobody should have to work throughout the night, particularly not on their own.
This could be turned into future measures, such as: Everyone has to offer help to at least one other Team member per day. Every Team member has to ask at least once during the Daily Scrum whether s/he can help another team member. The often empty phrase of „How are you?“ should be taken more seriously.
If we had, however, combined Discussion #1 into Discussions #2 and #3, this event might have never come up. Sometimes these problems, such as staying up all night, are not named during Discussion #3, since Team members do not believe that their situation could be improved. When, in fact, their fellow Team members can help.

  • During these three sessions, the session moderators and ScrumMaster should make sure to…

… keep the Timebox.
… ensure that the group members discuss the correct topics during the 40 minute chats. Often, Team members jump from Discussion #1 to Discussion #3 and back to Discussion #2. However, each topic should get its own time slot.
… summarise and list the results of the Discussions not only in order to bring them forward in the Team session, but to have them as documentation.
… note down the proposed future improvements in a list and help out with the voting process for prioritisation.
Depending on your Team members‘ personalities, cultures and language know-how, the chat sessions could be exchanged with telephone conferences.

Have fun and good luck trying this method! I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.

This article is the result of teamwork between Stephanie Gasche & Kristina Klessmann.

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