My diary yesterday looked like a recipe for disaster; 8 hours of coaching training followed by a retrospective on AWS training I’d co-delivered with colleagues several weeks ago.  However, I left the office last night absolutely buzzing and positively flying home on my bike feeling far, far more energised than I’d expected.

Yesterday was a fairly good day in general, but the catalyst for my mood was the success of the retrospective that capped the day off.  To be fair, delivering the training we were reflecting on was a very enjoyable experience at the time, but I was surprised by how quickly and strongly the positive emotions of the event came flooding back during the retrospective.  I was doubly surprised because I’ve become jaded about retrospectives recently.  They can be such tricky beasts to tame, for many reasons:

  • Group Therapy: Retros can quickly become nothing more than whinge sessions with little/no focus on capturing and assigning actions
  • All Talk/No Action: If retro actions aren’t seen to be completed, people will quickly loose faith in the actions being created
  • Toothless Teams: teams without the desire or power to change any of the factors causing them pain generally create really depressing retros
  • Tickbox Compliance: Some teams fall into the habit of focusing too much on the process (i.e., What Worked Well, Lessons Learnt, etc) and too little on the result (i.e., improvements in team performance), with predictable results
  • Surface Dwellers: Root cause analysis of problems identified is usually beyond the scope of most retros due to time limitations, leaving people feeling frustrated that actions identified are only addressing symptoms of the real problem
  • Party Poopers: It’s common for teams not to take the time to smell the roses and celebrate when the activity went well.  It’s this lesson that I’d forgotten until the retro yesterday brought it back to me…

Although I usually schedule iteration retrospectives as close as possible to the end of the iteration itself, this retro was a significant time after the delivery of the training it was focused on as I went on a large chunk of leave immediately after delivering the training.  In effect, it was this separation of event and retrospective that contributed to my joy because enough time has passed for me to naturally forget about the training itself.

In other respects, the retrospective was fairly standard; it was distributed across two cities via teleconference but the number of participants was small (4) and everyone was well acquainted with each other which overcame most of the communication barriers distributed automatically provides. positives, negatives and puzzles were all readily identified and actions drawn up for future training delivery.  But all of this was done in an overwhelmingly positive mood, making the entire process a joy.

If only I could bottle this collective vibe and sprinkle it liberally the next time I’m in a retro where the amount of negative comments outweighs the positive and neutral ones by 4:1.

Retrospectives; reflect, optimise and (don’t forget) CELEBRATE!