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How to Make Agile Retrospectives Fun

Retrospectives are some of the most important events in an agile team's work. Everyone has a chance to present their thoughts on the last sprint and start bigger discussions about how to improve the organization. Done right, retros are productive and get broad buy-in from team members. However, not everyone finds them useful. For some, they can be time-sucks and can distract people from their daily tasks. Making sure your retros are both fun and productive is essential to continuous improvement. Agile retrospectives should be the meeting we look forward to and get excited about. But is it possible to improve the retrospective? In this post, I will try to show you that retrospectives can be fun.

What is a Retrospective?

A retrospective is an event in which the processes, tools, and interactions between members of the scrum team are inspected. In addition, the scrum team has a great opportunity to discuss the situations that took place during the past sprint and require a conclusion. The duration of the retro depends on the length of the sprint — during a bi-weekly sprint, you should allocate a set time limit for the retrospective. The whole team then can develop a plan to implement improvements or experiments that are to improve the team's productivity, and thus have a positive impact on the value of the developed product. Unfortunately, the pandemic situation thwarted many plans and limited live meetings. 

Fortunately, we have access to many tools that allow for very good cooperation of all team members despite the limitations. However, it is not the tools that are the key to success, but the attitude of the meeting participants. Therefore, it is worth making the retrospectives interesting and inspiring. The improvement plan should be implemented in the next iteration, which will make the work more effective and at the same time more fun. This last point is often overlooked in retrospective work. It is believed that it is not appropriate to talk about the fun part of work.

What makes a retro effective? 

First of all, the purpose of the retrospective is clearly marked. At the beginning of each meeting, it’s worth remembering why we are meeting and what the outcome of the retrospective is. Such an introduction helps create an atmosphere of mutual trust, which allows members of the scrum team to feel comfortable and open up to discussions about their observations and feelings. It is a good idea to discuss both the successes of the sprint and the elements that need improvement. However, facilitation is key. Make sure that during the meeting participants can present their opinions and that other team members hear their statements. Engage the team to talk and share their point of view. 

It is worth using all possible ways to conduct a retrospective. In this way, you’ll avoid boredom and the course itself will not be obvious, maybe we can positively surprise someone. Without the joy of work, the team will never achieve this efficiency. However, providing it usually costs little or is completely free. On experienced teams, the best results are achieved with a variety of exercises, which you will learn more about later in the post.

It is also easy to leave your team feeling unsatisfied after the retrospective, and that the meeting itself was not effective. This can happen when the meeting is not following a structured retro format, there is no meeting agenda, there’s no moderator, or the moderator is not moderating properly. Many threads are going on at the same time, but none of them are well enough covered to conclude the future. Due to the chaos, only some of the topics are covered, but not always those topics that are important to the team. 

The scrum team leaves the retrospective without any specific conclusions, but with a sense of wasted time. The team does not implement changes in the process that it establishes during retrospectives. It does not monitor the progress of planned activities on an ongoing basis. It is not known which of the planned activities were implemented and which were not. There is no reference to the planned activities during future meetings.

Running fun retros

Retros should be interesting and tailored to the group. A meeting where the team sits bored and purring to itself is one of the things that put people away. Try to find a way to attract the attention of others. How about an icebreaker? Perform an agile retrospective in a non-standard way. One of the ideas is to conduct a meeting in the form of film criticism. Let's imagine that our sprint was a movie — describe it. What kind of "movie" was it? How do we rate it? Would we like to see such a movie again? 

Let's describe what was the main motive of this film sprint? In this way, we will move away from all well-known questions that do not motivate us to deeper reflections. This method has a fantastic influence on the team and prevents boredom and monotonous activities from creeping in. Later, you can do the Oscars. Select the best "movie," the worst, the most difficult to watch until the end. Of course, each team member has to justify their choice. Sometimes it is worth devoting a retrospective to team-building tasks. It can be, for example, the role expectation matrix — what you expect from yourself, developers, and other collaborators. This is a great task for onboarding new members as well as for those who've been working together for years.

Final Thoughts

An agile retrospective doesn't always have to be boring and predictable. Don't be afraid to try new things, you and your team will find out which retrospectives work best for you. Eventually, you will find what you like best. You will find a way to work as efficiently as possible. The most important thing is the willingness to change for the better, the effects will start to appear on their own over time. Allocate some of your meetings for chats or team games that will put you in a better mood and allow the retrospective to take place in a pleasant atmosphere.