Use Retrospectives to Drive Continuous Improvement

agile leadership agile teams continuous improvement

By Ryan Fullmer

June 19, 2022

Continuous Improvement

To meet the challenges we face today, it is important to keep growing and improving. These challenges are often complex. We need to pivot, change processes, and learn new skills to succeed. We need teams at all levels to embrace challenges and see failures as opportunities to grow.

The problem we see is that teams don’t take enough time to inspect and adapt. Teams are busy. When they do take the time, it’s not always well spent. The conversations often turn into complaining, commiserating and finger-pointing. It’s not uncommon for them to end the conversations without improvement items.

Teams need an approach and process to do this well.

Retrospective Meetings

Teams that use regular retrospective meetings are successful in making continuous improvements. They improve and mature by regularly inspecting their interactions, tools and processes. They identify specific actions to address the root causes. They make a plan for the most important changes and assess the results.

We use a five-step agenda to run powerful retrospective meetings. This five-step agenda comes from the book “Agile Retrospectives, Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby and Diana Larson.

The five steps are:

  1. Set the stage - Set the scope and focus of the retrospective and how to work together during the meeting.
  2. Gather data - Identify what is working and what is not working.
  3. Generate insights - Dive deeper to learn more about the impactful problems.
  4. Decide what to do - Decide what changes to commit to making.
  5. Close the retrospective - Share appreciations, review next steps and provide feedback on the meeting

Retrospectives at Every Level

Retrospective meetings apply to making improvements at various levels and scopes. You can use them to identify improvements for:

  • Leadership Teams - Leaders assess how they are working together and supporting their teams.
  • Projects - Retrospectives at project phases, key milestones and/or at project completion. 
  • Significant Events - Retrospectives around an impactful event. Events like major service outages, significant releases, or product launches.
  • Programs and Business Units - Retrospectives each quarter. Taking a strategic look at performance and operations over the past quarter.
  • Delivery Teams - Regular retrospectives at least monthly. The team assesses how things went for the team over the last iteration.

Get Started

It can be hard to step away from doing the work to take time to reflect. The healthiest organizations make a point to invest time to improve processes and how they work together.

Lasting change begins when leaders go first. Start using retrospectives meetings on your leadership teams. Share the process and your experiences with your teams. Make it clear how much time is being invested in the retrospective process. Provide opportunities for teams to share their experiences and the improvements resulting from their retrospectives.

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