I love retrospectives. They give the team a chance to reflect, to learn, and to really bond. Our retrospectives are the highlight of my sprint. I love doing them. Our format is quite different than you would expect from a typical scrum retro.

The Environment

We don’t buy a couple of cases of beer and moan about our company/ team/boss in the conference room for an hour. We don’t even whine or complain. We set the environment to be intimate and to allow people to bond. We go out, far away from the office. We always do our retro at a restaurant or bar. The company doesn’t buy; we all “go Dutch.”

The great thing about doing it away from the office is that your teammates let down their guards, so they’re more social and human. People order food and talk sports. It becomes so much more friendly and less “work” like.

Our rule is that retro doesn’t officially start until after everyone has gotten their drinks, which gives us plenty of time to banter and hang out.

The Format

Typically, a retro is “whine about this, complain about that.” I’ve seen that format in so many companies. It’s pretty old and annoying - not to mention it’s not effective.

Roles in the meeting

  1. We have the host - the person in charge of herding the cats to the restaurant and picking the place. This person kicks things off and explains how the process works
  2. The note taker - this person takes notes on what the team offers as feedback.
  3. The attender - this person gives feedback to 5 focus areas (see below) and can be either of the first two listed.

One notable person that is NOT in the meeting is the manager. This person never attends any of our meetings EVER.

We have each person write down things for 7 minutes - related to the 5 focus areas. When the timer is up, someone will volunteer to go first and we’ll go around the room “round robin” style with each person giving their feedback to the 5 areas. We will talk about their reasoning and logic, take notes, and decide on action items.

The 5 focus areas

Recognitions

This is pretty straight forward. Common examples are:

  1. “Casey helped me writing some Jest tests that helped me get my stuff to pass the build.”
  2. “Bob is a fun person to pair with and has been receptive to my feedback.”

What do we want to stop doing?

For example, a few retro’s ago we had someone give the feedback that during meetings with the team we often talk over each other and it’s really difficult when you’re trying to explain a new idea. Other times it has been “Please stop showing up 15 minutes late to our stand up.”

What do we want to start doing?

  • Start contributing to UI Kit.
  • Start writing E2E tests.
  • Start using Slack.

These are all great examples of starting actions.

What do we want to continue doing?

  • Continue collaborating.
  • Continue pairing.
  • Working with the design team to refactor the UI so it’s consistent.

Feedback to management

We use this to address specific blockers, such as:

  • Nobody has access to install yarn packages locally.
  • The firewall blocks access to stack overflow.
  • We don’t have clear requirements.

The Result

Our retro has been totally refactored. It has helped the team to bond and come together. We fight less, talk more, and we have a team that works really well together. Our meetings are more focused on actionable items than feelings.

While feelings are important, having structure like this allows people to move past being angry or sad to focus on the heart of the issue. That’s what this format is designed to focus on: the why behind the problems or improvements.