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May 25, 2020

Powerful Retrospectives

“My team is perfect, we never make mistakes”

That’s what we’d love to say but the reality is that since we live in constant change we don’t stop making mistakes. However, the most important thing is that we always try not to repeat them and retrospectives help us to achieve that.

These sessions are typically seen in an agile and scrum environment and they are a way for an entire team to come together and reflect on the latest months at work and talk about what went well and what could be improved. But retrospectives can be useful for any team and they aren’t just limited to Scrum development teams. A retrospective is a simple concept: your team steps out of their day-to-day work and reflects on what’s going great and what’s not going so great within the team, with projects, or the company. Feedback is arguably the most important resource for a designer.

Our Design Team is distributed in different cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Sevilla but we always endeavour to get together face to face for our retrospective sessions.

4 key principles for a retrospective:

  1. Fostering collaboration. Everyone on the team should participate and we remind that the goal of this meeting is to improve as a team. We give everyone sticky notes to break down their ideas in two groups: the ones that are working well and the ones that aren’t working that well. It is important to mention actionable items to improve the second ones.
  2. Looking back. We do an open discussion. We go around the room person by person explaining our thoughts and ideas. We also acknowledge success, briefly, as we don’t want the entire meeting to focus around accomplishments of individuals but rather of the team as a whole. We talk about what went well and what could be improved. We think about what “we want less of” for the next month or “what was lacking during the last month”. For example, things that slowed the team down, things that made communication difficult…It is never an easy task to talk about feelings at work, but teams that communicate openly are usually the most engaged ones.
  3. Zero blame. We don’t use personal attacks or blame a specific person or role. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can be harmful to the team’s efforts. But building a strong culture of transparency will focus the teams efforts to improve the feeling of accountability as a group.
  4. Actions speak louder than words. Once everyone talked, we create an action plan with priorities, which is the most important component of the retrospective. This gives us the best opportunity to try a new technique as an experiment to see if it will help improve our process. Once the action items are identified, the team takes ownership and assigns a due date to each one. We make sure we focus on action items that can realistically be solved in one or two months. If it happens that we cannot do that, we break a large item down into smaller action items. How many of you have or have had a long list of “improvements” ? The intention is really good but is this really working? We prioritise those smaller action items and we revise the list and the progress across the year. In the next retrospective, we follow up on the action plan we made and review the rest of the items on that predefined list which may no longer suit the new situation and new priorities in the process.

Last but not least. Every-time we get together for a retrospective session, we all end up going out for lunch. It is a great opportunity to get closer to the rest of the team (particularly to those that live in different cities) and it fosters a positive company culture getting to know each other on a more personal level.

Conclusion

Retrospectives are a dedicated time to come together, and collaboratively revamp the team’s process, reflecting on the past to progress in the future. This makes them a super-powerful methodology for continuous improvements. So, why not giving them a go?

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Design Team

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