Do you remember some post-mortem meetings you have been attending? Usually, they just take place when something went really wrong and then they often turn out to be an emotional blame game.
The idea as such is great and very important for the development of individuals, teams and even organizations. That's why retrospectives - in short "retros" - came up. It started in the engineering and software environment. Nowadays, it is used in all different departments, teams, organizations, industries and countries.
In this blog article, you will get to know more about
- Definition of a retrospective
- Setting the stage
- Perform a retrospective
- Overcome challenges
- Start now with retrospectives
Definition of a retrospective
According to Wikipedia, a retrospective (from Latin retrospectare, "look back") generally, is a look back at events that took place, or works that were produced, in the past.
There are usually three parts in a retrospective which can vary depending on the focus. Collaboard proposes these three for example:
- What should the team start doing?
- What should the team stop doing?
- Next steps
This is a simple and effective way to look backwards and forwards at the same time and decide what actions to take as a next step.
Usually, the retrospective takes place after a given time period like after a sprint, a project or a quarter.
The main objective of the retrospective is to learn from the experience and make it better the next time. It reinforces continuous learning and can identify new opportunities.
Originally, the retrospective was done by standing together around a whiteboard or wall in a meeting room. With the switch to predominantly virtual collaboration, the best way to do it now is on an online whiteboard. To make it easy for you, there are already templates available.
Setting the stage
To ensure the learning, the setting needs to be done correctly. As a base, it should be a pleasant experience, no blame game.
This means for all participants:
- Have an open mindset
- Everybody has a valid point of view
- Nothing is personal
It might help to ask a neutral third party to facilitate the meeting.
If the participants of the retrospective don't know each other so well or the facilitator senses barriers for people to open up, we recommend doing some ice-breaker games at the beginning. You can find out more details about doing it with an online whiteboard here.
Perform a retrospective
There are different formats of retrospectives. Whichever you choose, it is important to address one section after the other to ensure a maximum of effectivity.
For a successful outcome it is necessary to clarify and set the expectations of the participants right at the beginning. So, ask what everybody is hoping to achieve from this exercise and find a common consensus.
The participants should put their feedback, ideas and inputs on sticky notes. Make sure, there is only one item per sticky notes. To make the identification easier, each participant can use one defined color. With the color picker from Collaboard, they have a very large choice.
By using an online whiteboard, you can then easily sort and group the sticky notes and also vote and rate the ideas and inputs.
At the end it is important to distribute the "Next steps" to the relevant participants for execution.
Like with everything, you might face different challenges in the process. Read here below about some examples on how to overcome them.
It all sounds nice; you might wonder if there are any downsides?
For a successfull outcome of a retrospective, the participants need to open up and feel comfortable sharing their experience. This might not always be the case, particularly if the participants don't know each other so well. To overcome this challenge, make sure you are setting the stage properly.
Sometimes a sticky note doesn't provide enough space to express the idea. With an online whiteboard you also have the possibility to add images, documents, shapes and even add (YouTube) videos.
If you don't use an online whiteboard software, then you might find it hard to group the different ideas together. With an online whiteboard like Collaboard the facilitator as well as the participants can move the sticky notes and all other objects wherever needed on the board.
One of the biggest challenges is not happening during the meeting but afterwards: it is to make sure the learnings taken on the notes translates into actions. Therefore, make sure you check back on it.
Start now with retrospectives
In summary, having a list of action items to make things better the next time is the main benefit of performing a retrospective if you also follow-up on them afterwards. The process also allows teams to get a better understanding of each other's working style, expert knowledge and perspectives.
We all have busy working days, still it is good to take some time to reflect. Remember the great mind Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So, make it an appreciated ritual and you, your team and your organization will grow.