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.

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My Approach to Working Agreements

You probably don’t look at your Working Agreement (“WA”) if you have one. Your team put in the effort, and it’s not fully serving you – what a waste! OR… Your team has never put in the effort, so y’ain’t got one – what an opportunity!

Look… I’m not going to sell you on why having one of these is a useful idea. The following is how I use 45 minutes to get 5-9 agreements a team of 5-9 people can start with, and then we iterate, resulting in a living document.

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Awesomify Your Retrospectives

Stale Retrospectives? Try Tasty Cupcakes!

And by that, I mean go on over to for ideas on different Retrospective formats. Just remember that the goal is one piece of Kaizen: one actionable item of improvement to try during the upcoming Sprint.

(I’ve said “piece of Kaizen” as a phrase a lot, such that at one gig it was misheard as “pizza Kaizen”, which got everybody repeating it. Hey, whatever works, amirite?)

One retro format I’ve enjoyed facilitating is the Spotify Health Check. Yes, there are articles that are closer to the source than the one to which I’m linking, but this is the one off of which I’ve worked.

(Yeesh, you try not ending a sentence with a preposition.)

I won’t repeat the mechanics here, but I will say I’ve giddily enjoyed reading aloud the aspirational description of each metric, the ability to show trends across time per team, and the ability to show trends across all teams per metric.

The metrics add focus to the discussion, on which I capitalize by offering up to discuss the highest rated ones, the lowest rated ones, the ones with the biggest change from last time, and the ones that are most polarizing (large number of positive and negative ratings) – the team chooses which ones to address, and the discussion order. These retrospectives become genuinely interesting, where the gathering phase can take 8 minutes, with practice.

And who’s to say these 10 metrics are sacred? I’ve had a team add a metric, truly making this format their own. Granted, it was the name of the team’s co-op student (intern), but Brendan took it like a champ.

The downside is that, after a few Sprints, this gets boring. For all my love of metrics and inspecting trend data, the teams found retros getting stale again, so I pleaded for us to invest in the 8 minutes every other week, and then move on to another retro format.

Want another Retrospective format? Bruce McCarthy uses Three Awesome Questions. I’m a big fan of his book Product Roadmaps: Relaunched – reading this was my second education in Product Management, the CSPO class being my first.

Here’s that retro format in Bruce’s words:

On a scale of 1-5, how awesome is it being at this company? On this team? And how how awesome is the work you were able to do this sprint (or since the last time we did a retro)?

We record those numbers, then also whatever comments the people have on each rating. We do this silently and anonymously, then share all the info for discussion.

We try to extract themes from the comments of things that are impeding our sense of awesomeness at any level. We pick 1-2 of these to focus on, then brainstorm ideas for addressing (even a little) each. We pick 1-2 ideas to implement and assign an owner.

Most of this is facilitated via our app, but it can be done with stickies and a white board. It’s just harder to track over time and across teams, and thus less useful for agile coaches or management. More info on the app can be found at

Bruce McCarthy, in an email to me

There. Two Retrospective Formats. You’re welcome.

Three-Minute Sprint

Try it.

And no, that doesn’t mean y’gotta be all strict-Scrum about it by having a Planning meeting, then standing up every 30 seconds, then Retrospecting at the end, followed by a Review session. Plan beforehand. Retrospect & Review afterwards. Sit down for the full three minutes.

Get yourself to focus for a full three minutes on something, where you may not have a potentially shippable output, but there is some micro-milestone you can claim.

Try it.

What you’ll find is this kick-starts your productivity. You’re giving yourself space to work towards something. Sometimes it feels silly, but at least for me, most of the time I blow past the timer and keep going.

This idea pops up when building habits. Pulling again from “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, when implementing “The Third Law – Make It Easy”, he recommends starting with repetition over perfection. This is what is meant by the initially counter-intuitive phrase, “quantity over quality”.

Frequency builds habits. So make it easy by finding and doing the miniature version of the habit you really want. Want to do 10 push-ups? Do and be satisfied with 1 push-up. Want to focus on work for 30 minutes? Do and be satisfied with 3 minutes. It’s the frequency of the exercise session and the work session that builds those habits, so you might as well make it easy.

The book calls this the “Two-Minute Rule”. I like three. Partially ’cause I’m Merrill The Third, and partially ’cause my daughter has these hourglass sand timers. We don’t have a two-minute one, but we do have a three. This analog solution is very satisfying.

Try it.

Who knows. It might kick-start anything you tell yourself you want to do, like, say, oh, I dunno, write a blog post first draft in 30 minutes, just as an example. Insert winkie-face here.

Agile Habits

Google “Aristotle quotes”. Here’s the first one I see:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

(Oooh. Starting with philosophy. Dorky. I like it.)

In his book “Atomic Habits“, James Clear builds off of this notion. Habits are those actions we take without trying – they’re automatic. The reason they’re automatic is we have found value in making them automatic – we either do them very frequently, or we have practiced them a lot. The benefit of automating them is so that we save brain energy to think through things that are novel, or things that matter, instead of things we do with a high enough frequency, like brush teeth before bed, or wash hands after coming back home, or wiping our sword on the grass before putting it away after the weekly field battle for the Hill of Arowyn with the neighbouring tribe.

(Oooh. An attempt at a Welsh word. Gaelic. I like it.)

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