Rear View Mirrors aka Mater Vision (Retrospective Habits for Agile Teams)

250px-MaterCars One of my favorite movies is Cars and specifically the character Mater, rusty and crusty but full of humorous and unintended sage advice.

During one point in the movie, Mater starts driving in reverse, on the road, off the road and Lightening McQueen is very impressed and asks Mater how he drives so well and his answer was, Rear View Mirrors to which he adds I don't need to know where I'm going if I already know where I been.

I started thinking about how this applies to high functioning Agile teams and their ability to provide predictability to their organizations.

More specifically I'm talking about how Retrospectives act as our rear view mirrors providing us with key visibility to where we were just at and an opportunity to reflect on where we want to go.

As an Agile team we constantly reflect (via Retrospectives) on where we were just at so that where we are going is incrementally improved, much like Mater and his rear view mirrors.  He's constantly reflecting on where he's been such that he's already where he needs to be before he gets there...

For organizations that are starting to adopt Agile ensuring that your teams utilize the Retrospective process is key to seeing the types of productivity improvements that Agile can and should deliver.

Retrospectives need to be both a no holds barred conversation about what did and did not work, but the team needs to ensure that it's also a safe place in which to talk about the issues that keep us from being really successful.  As a manager or management team you need to back away from the team and give them room to organize themselves.  As I've said before if a team feels empowered and is clear on the vision of the organization they are capable of solving both team and organizational issues that you didn't think were easily solved.

Traits and habits of good Retrospectives are actually very simple:

  1. Have it consistently after each iteration.
  2. Hold the Retrospective right after your demo while all of the iteration context and issues are fresh in your mind.
  3. Each Retrospective should start with review of any action items from the previous sprint.
    1. Scrum Master - Ensure that this happens as this is the key to having the team feel like the issues that are causing problems are actually being addressed.
    2. Scrum Team - You need to commit to addressing the action items identified in a Sprint to ensure that you are applying continuous improvement to your teams processes.
  4. Working Agreements - The team needs to have a set of agreements by which their Retrospective will be run, follow these agreements, which should include:
    1. Respect your team members - Allow them to call you out if necessary if you were in fact a blocker (I have been and no it's not nice to hear that, but your teammates are relying on you to make sure that they are successful.)
    2. Attack the problem not the person - This is key, you all want to be successful, don't take things personally, ask questions and come up with solutions that might work.
    3. Understand that not every idea you have will make things better, be prepared to fail.
  5. Keep the Retrospective to the members of the Team that are responsible for delivering the work (aka Individual Contributors).  Managers and Stakeholders should not attend.  As a Scrum Master you may have to tactfully address this if these individuals want to attend.
  6. Relax, we aren't trying to solve world peace.

Continuous Improvement leads to predictable velocity providing you with the ability to be like Mater.

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