Agile approach to development has distinguished many instruments helping to make work more predictable and effective. On the other hand, Agile has brought to the world methodologies that use these instruments according to certain patterns. They are obviously great although not sufficiently flexible. The thing is that the tools can be used outside the pattern to reach all the required goals.
Our team worked on a long-term e-commerce project. Among our clients were sales reps, SEO experts and marketing specialists of a shop. The main goal of the team was to support an existing functionality of the product. We used Jira Kanban board to track issues. The process went quite smoothly until the moment when we were asked to develop new functionality. We faced the challenge of reducing the resources we spent on support, while the quantity of support tasks remained the same. The only thing we could do to face the challenge was to optimize the processes and execute the support task more effectively. Our team used a classic instrument of Scrum methodology called Retrospective for changes implementation.
Retrospective is commonly defined as a meeting that’s held at the end of an iteration in Agile software development. During the retrospective, the team reflects on what happened in the iteration and identifies actions for improvement by going forward.
As far as we had no iterations, first thing we had to think about was periodicity of retrospective.
For example, it could be selected:
According to the tasks made (every 100 tasks).
According to the calendar (3rd Thursday of every month).
According to a trigger (after release).
The other thing we needed to consider was staff involved in retrospective:
Development team retrospective (only development team members are involved).
Department retrospective (staff from different departments is involved)
One-to-one retrospective (different specialists are involved)
Place of retrospective:
Any 3rd party location: co-working space, park, etc.
The format of retrospective was essential as well. It could be:
This format of Retrospective helps you to define the pros and cons of current activities. It’s a good option for a quick meeting, which will help to understand what you are actually doing well (fill in a ‘Keep doing’ column with stickers) and what you might be doing wrong (fill in a ‘Stop doing’ column with stickers). However, this format doesn’t imply further planning or generation of ideas together with the team. And that’s not right when you go Agile.
A large number of development teams use this format worldwide. It’s simple and really effective. With the help of this format you will see the current situation on the project (fill in ‘+’ and ‘-‘ columns) and make appropriate decisions (fill in a ‘Plan column’) in order to change it. You will also be able to gather new ideas (fill in an ‘Ideas column’), which may not be included into the next iteration, but will be added to the Backlog. One may suggest that a Classic format isn’t interactive enough. However, great news is it’s the only visible downside.
Use a creative format called Sailboat to warm up your team. Sailboat gives you a possibility to collect strong points (put your stickers near the ‘Wind’) and weak points (put your stickers near the ‘Anchors’). The other cool thing about this format is its flexibility. You can add stuff, for which you need to collect information in the picture. For example, if you want to know about risks you have, just add ‘Rocks’ to the picture (put your stickers near the ‘Rocks’ to define risks).
Unchain your imagination and use different themes for this format of retrospective. You can replace Sailboat by car, rocket or any object related to your project.
Starfish format will help you to define activities that should be done more or done less accordingly (put your stickers in the following sections: ‘Less of’ and ‘More of’). Then again you will define things you are doing totally right or absolutely wrong (place your stickers to the ‘Keep doing’ and ‘Stop doing’ sections). In addition, there is a spot for new ideas and activities (put your stickers in the ‘Start doing’ section). Starfish format is generally considered to be well-balanced.
There are some tips you should be aware of before the retrospective:
- Prepare tools:
2. Timing plan and control:
- Introduction speech – 5 min
- Discussion of current iteration -15 min
- Gathering information on stickers – 10 min
- Brainstorming – 40 min
- Approving of brainstormed tasks – 10 min
- Giving thanks - 5 min
3. Prepare treatment:
- Kick-ass coffee in our case
4. No criticism or future punishment are allowed.
This is the golden rule of Retrospective. The main goal is collecting weak points and making them strong ones, not criticizing each other.
Once we realized all of the components for Retrospective mix, the action time has come. We used triggers to find out the periodicity of retrospective meetings. The trigger was the meetings held to discuss new functionality of the product, which usually happened once in 1,5-2 months. This trigger also helped us to gather development and marketing department in one place, which was a meeting room, and define the staff who had to be involved. We chose Sailboat format for first retrospective, because it represented the whole idea in a convenient way. In addition, this format enabled us to involve all team members in the process easily. We used classic format for second retrospective, which contributed to reducing the time we spent on it. Our plan was to shift the focus to the starfish retrospective in the future.
Introduction of Retrospective allowed us to automatize several support activities and to highlight weak points in the process of communication between departments, which we corrected immediately. All of this decreased the entire quantity of support tasks, so we were able to create new functionality and support an existing one without engaging new developers.
With the use of the components described above you can create your own personal Retrospective mix, suiting your project the best way possible. All you have to do is define periodicity, staff involved, place, format and don’t forget about the tips. Make sure that your team will benefit from retrospective no matter what methodology you are using at the moment. Try to think outside the box and treat retrospective as an independent instrument that it definitely is.