How Iteration Retrospectives Can Improve Your Work

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Bastiaan Repetski

Feb 23, 2016 • 5 min read

How can you make sure that there is ongoing improvement in your project once it has entered an active development phase? How can you eliminate potential stumbling blocks that pop up from time to time? How can you ensure that best practices are maintained and problems minimized? The answer is simple - Iteration Retrospectives! Let me tell you how we do it at Netguru.

What are Iteration Retrospectives About

Iteration Retrospectives are short internal meetings held at the end of an iteration, preferably before the next one starts. During an IR, the project’s team members, moderated by the Project Manager (PM), have a short discussion about how the last iteration went. The best moment to organise an IR is alongside an internal standup/planning session shortly before the weekly call with the client. With Netguru’s 1-week iteration flow, an IR should last no longer than 10-15 mins, however the exact time will depend on the team size.

Giving Complex Feedback on an Iteration

The ultimate aim of the meeting is to identify things that negatively influenced the team’s workflow last week (for instance: overestimated task(s), poor organization, too much time spent on calls, various blockers, unexpected refactorings, tests, etc.). Simply bring anything that bothered you or hindered your workflow. Next, discuss how these problems can be eliminated in order to enhance the team’s workflow and future performance.

At the same time, also try to identify and shed light on practices that brought extra value to your workflow. These “best practices” ought to be promoted and repeated over future weekly iterations, if possible.

Proposed questions & survey templates

OK, but how do we get this information from each team member? The following simple questions should help you, dear PM, to initiate and stimulate the discussion:

  • How was the iteration? Rate it from 1-5, 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest (Make your choice based on your overall subjective feeling)
  • What went well? (Mention even one thing!)
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What actions can we take to improve our process going forward?

In order to automate the process of collecting the feedback from all your team members, an iteration feedback survey may be used. We suggest that you send (via Slack or email) the survey to your team members 1-2 hours before the meeting, so that they have time to respond. The survey should only take about 5 minutes to complete, and is a great resource for the discussion at the retrospective.

Furthermore, what’s great about individual surveys is that team members do not have to share their initial feedback in front of the team. Believe it or not, but this kind of privacy can lead individuals to be more willing to share their insights about the last iteration! Remember that the survey is optional and doesn’t have to be used every time. Check with your team whether they prefer discussion only, or an initial survey and then a discussion.

IR Follow-up

It is crucial to monitor and check whether actions undertaken on the basis of an IR have actually been implemented and if they deliver the desired results. Moreover, be open to the team’s opinions and feedback regarding the new initiatives. Do not hesitate to organize a quick team follow-up after a week (perhaps even merge it with the next IR session) in order to see if ideas generated during the last IR have actually worked out.

Frequency of Iteration Retrospectives

Generally, it’s a good idea to do an IR after every iteration, but never feel forced to do it. If you, as a PM, have a feeling that an IR will not bring any value - just skip it and wait until a more opportune moment. You may notice that over time that the retrospectives get shorter and shorter as the team gets used to discussing and resolving the issues.

Wrapping up

In summary, you’ll be surprised how willing the team is to share their workflow insights & feedback with you. Just create a 15 minute “space” for them to talk and you’ll be able to identify many strong and weak points in the team’s workflow.

Iteration Retrospective is a powerful tool, use it wisely:)

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Bastiaan Repetski

Bastiaan is an open-minded technology enthusiast who is always eager to deepen his IT knowledge. As...

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