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Writing the Value, Flow, Quality educational content we are always looking out for good case studies to support our research. The session on Feedback talks, among other things, about retrosepctives so we set out to find good examples of organisations running successful retrospectives. This has sparked an interesting question on twitter – how could we define successful retrospectives?

I’m sure that every time you join a retrospective you have a very clear impression of its success afterwards. Did we have a good discussion; did we discover some interesting insights; did we create sensible and achiveble actions; Did we have a good time; These will all contribute to the impression of success. On the other hand, if we were bored, or felt forced to attend, if the discussion points felt obvious and the actions looked deceptively similar to the ones last week, and the week before – the chances are we wouldn’t rate the outcome highly. For me, it is important that we feel our participation in a retrospective is worthwile and valuable. We should run retrospectives which feel successful to participants.

However, this is only one aspect of retrospectives and personal satisfaction doesn’t necesarily translate into organisational success of our retrospectives. I would like to explore what you think about success criteria for organisational success. To spark the discussion I’ll put my initial throughts in the first comment. I welcome you to join me and explore this interesting question together:

What are successful retrospectives?


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  • Marcin Floryan

    A quick reflection leads me to suggest that successful retrospectives have two attributes: 
    * they are sustainable
    * they lead to to quantifiable improvements in our processes and products

    By sustainable I mean that the team running them finds their retrospectives valuable, useful and can easily imagine running them indefinitely. New practices, tools and approaches are welcome by the team but they are only seen as a tool to help achieve the goal – improvements. The improvements should be visible, clear and quantifiable. We should be able to prove that they contribute to the value the team is delivering.

    • Mark Piper

      I agree, but I think the second leads to the first anyway, so my only real criteria is “did we change anything?”.  We’ve just changed our retrospectives, from being a per-iteration “what went well/bad” type thing, to a “just in time” discussion of 3 specific topics raised by the team.  This means we’re discussing things that really are an issue, and which really do improve our world when they get resolved.  In times gone by, retros were just a chance to have a good boast/whinge rather than actually getting anything done – or if actions did come out of it, they were inevitably for the stuff that wasn’t particularly important.  

  • Monika

    How’s the “successful retrospective” defined by your Team(s)?

    What were the special treats of a retrospective after which the team felt empowered more than ever before?

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