My Approach to a Quick Retrospective

It’s simple… Do not do a quick Retrospective.

But if y’ain’t got a lotta time… I do a “Fist Of Five“, gather quantitative & qualitative data, pretend for a moment we have 6 fingers on a hand, then capture a piece of Kaizen, all in 3 minutes.

I mean… I could end this post right here.

But I won’t… Remember that insurrection on January 6th? What the fuck was that shit? People were fed lies to fuel all sorts of anger & fear, which led to some of them invading the Capitol?!? Like, holy fucking shit!!! That whole scene represents major failure on a number of fronts, and… We. Need. To. Retrospect. HARD.

Alors… The quicker you Retrospect, the lesser the quality of the actionable item of improvement on the other side, mostly because you don’t give yourself the time to think up and dive down into how to make the next chunk of time better. Also, the shorter the amount of time you’re reflecting on, which is usually the same amount of time ahead of you that you hope to improve, the lesser the potential impact of the Kaizen. Think about it… Are you holding a Retrospective at the end of your day? Then the Kaizen will impact the next day, which will not be as potentially impactful as one you would pick from a weekly Sprint Retrospective, or a quarterly one, or a yearly one (New Year’s Resolutions, anyone?). Or one for a 4-year cycle (voting for a US President, anyone?). The LONGER the amount of time you’re retrospecting, the deeper the potential impact of… a piece of Kaizen. Yet, this isn’t what Agile is about… it’s about quicker feedback loops, to more frequently validate if you’re going in the right direction, mechanizing pivot/persevere decisions. Think about it… again… Are you holding a Retrospective at the end of your day? Then that retrospecting mechanizes how you change direction once a day, which will not be as potentially impactful as one for the next half-day (re-centering post-lunch, anyone?), or half-hour (a 1-1 regular meeting, anyone?). Or one for a moment (mindfulness, anyone?). The SHORTER the amount of time you’re retrospecting, the deeper the potential impact of… retrospecting. Oh, and the less risky a piece of Kaizen.

Maybe… I should’ve ended this post back there.

But First, We Suck

Three minutes? C’mon…

I acknowledge that the Retrospective we’re about to run is sub-optimal, and that I’ve scheduled hour-long ones regularly with teams who’d then request them to be regularly 90 minutes.

Regardless, we will try to walk away with a meaningful piece of Kaizen.

And Then, We Rock

I have a script, exclaimed with high energy, like I’m a Ring Master…

Wwwwwelcome to the Retrospective, where we look back on the LAST two weeks to see how we can make the NEXT two weeks More Awesome, or at least Suck Less, using a technique called the “Fist Of Five”. Think back on the last two weeks and score it with the fingers on one hand.

…oh, but I keep going… and I get joy every time for saying this next bit…

ZERO means it was a COMPLETE waste of time, you would NOT wish this upon your fellow co-worker, AND you’re HUNGRY, since hunger usually plays a factor.

FIVE means it was a GREAT use of time, you WOULD wish this upon your fellow co-worker, and hunger does NOT play a factor.

Please. Be. Respectful. With. The fingers. You throw. In. The air. Ha HA ha.

Any questions?

No? Good. Fingers ON three.

One. Two. Three-GO!

(Yes. I have way too much fun when I get to do this.)

And then I flash a “two”. I do this to show it is safe to score a low number, even though I’m facilitating, and not participating.

1. Gather Quantitative Data

Ah, yes. The mostly necessary bit.

I quickly count aloud all the numbers I see, which helps others get a sense of the room. If this Retro format is one I do regularly, I’ll dutifully keep track of these numbers, for trending purposes later on.

I especially note the highest & lowest scores, for the next bit, which happens, uh, next.

2. Gather Qualitative Data

Ah, yes. The at-times unnecessary bit.

If we have time, especially if we actually have more than three minutes, I get each person to say their score and explain why, asking folks to keep their explanation to under some arbitrary time box.

If we have less time, especially if we actually have only three minutes, I get a person who scored the highest score, and a person who scored the lowest score, to explain why, quickly.

If we have even less time, especially if we actually have less than three minutes (or it’s a larger group), I skip to the next section.

3. Pretend Six Fingers

Ah, yes. The definitely necessary bit.

I put my Ring Master top hat back on…

Now, thinking back on the last two weeks, what would it take… to make it… a SIX?

When it’s the first time for a group, one adult genius undoubtedly chooses to exclaim that there’s a normal number of digits on an upper appendage. I embrace this Mensa-level epiphany, noting that we can use the creativity to pretend we suddenly have six fingers on a hand to also come up with ideas that would warrant a “six”.

4. Capture a Piece of Kaizen

Ah, yes. The definitional bit.

(If we don’t even try to get a piece of Kaizen, then this ain’t a Retro.)

When it’s the first time for a group, one adult epicurean undoubtedly chooses to exclaim, “cookies”. I then write down, “cookies”. I embrace this Michelin-level fantasy, noting that this is the type of creativity I’m looking for.

We eventually come up with a few less bacchanalian, id-induced improvement ideas. I guide us towards picking one we can all try to pull off, thank everybody for playing, say I’ll put the Kaizen in a highly visible spot, like some flavour of Sprint Backlog, then close this puppy down.

My Approach

All in 3 minutes, I have packed into this time box a set of activities that have proven useful to me and my Scrumsketeers.

We recognize the suck of the shortness.

We giggle at the idea of flipping the bird.

We flash fingers in front of the circle above the glowing rectangle so everybody else in Zoom-land can see our obscured faces… and hear me count.

We maybe hear the opinions behind the scores, depending on time.

We ponder whether a sixth finger would be an extra pinky or an extra thumb. (It’s extra creepy either way.)

We collect & commit to Kaizen, then bring it home. (Insert Work-From-Home joke here.)

Please steal this idea as you’re inclined to try it. And then let me know how it goes.

Do you have an approach to a stupidly quick Retrospective that’s really working for you?

OK… I think I will hunt down a cookie end this post right here. And Retrospect. HARD.