Reviewing Retrospectives

Reviewing Retrospectives

In my recent article on I shared that my belief is that the retrospective is the single most important agility enabling practice, period.

So I wanted to share here a few resources for retrospectives and some further thoughts.

first the thoughts.

Keep it safe

psychological safety, the belief that it is safe in this group to speak, is critically important to the success of retrospectives.  If people do not feel safe, if they feel their words will be used against them, maybe even used to fire them, they will not speak and the retrospective will be of no use. Creating a context of psychological safety is more than this blog post, heck it is more than several blog posts, it is a book all of its own. That said it is critical that every member of the group, but most especially, the leader, is responsible for creating and maintaining an environment where people feel safe.  This is not only important for retrospectives but it is important to the health of your teams in general.

One of the things that can happen at a retrospective is it can turn into a bitch session, or a blame/shame session. This is counter productive and easily avoidable with a good facilitator and well facilitated process. Here are some simple suggestions

  1. Never use names unless it is about praise for work well done.
  2. Focus on the behavior or the problem not the person (People can always change)
  3. Believe the best – People generally want to do a good job.
  4. Post, enforce and reinforce the prime directive (

Another key to retrospectives is to focus on the ruthless elimination of all waste. Lean defines three categories of waste and calls them by their Japanese names:

  • Muri – the waste of unreasonableness
  • Mura – the waste of inconsistency, unevenness
  • Muda – any waste that is not producing customer value.

When conducting retrospectives you should address the wastes in this order. First Muri then Mura and finally addressing the seven wastes of Muda.  Here is why.  You cannot improve a system that is unstable. The first two wastes address wastes of erratic systems.  In organizations that have excessive unreasonable requirements it is important to first address these issues.  This is often a symptom of leadership not being aligned.  Once leadership becomes aligned with each other and are making reasonable and consistent decisions, then other inconsistencies in the system can be addressed.

Inconsistency takes many forms. It can be inconsistency in the way work is processed. Generally in production plants Mura is considered the inconsistency of flow in the production line. However, that is when you are making a bunch of the same thing. When you are doing new product or service development, inconsistency looks different. I would rather define consistency, than inconsistency, since as Tolstoy said in Anna Karinnina : “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” similarly, every well run system is alike; every mismanaged system is mismanaged in its own way.”  Consistency in a new product development looks like;

  • Work is predictable, size, delivery, flow
  • Priorities may change before work is started but work started is able to be executed
  • organizational purpose remains even if priorities and outcomes change.

Muda is non-value-add work. Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990) defined seven (muda) wastes in the Toyota Production System. These seven wastes are still used today. A pneumonic is often used to remember these wastes; TIM-WOOD. Using the TIM-WOOD waste list is great way to focus a retrospective. TIMWOOD stands for;

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Movement
  • Waiting
  • Over Production
  • Over Processing
  • Defects

These are the types of waste identified in a manufacturing environment.  They don’t all translate easily to a new product development process like agile.

Resources for Retrospectives – Great basic resource  – Awesome resource for quick plans for retrospectives. (not all combinations work though) – Link to a google search on Retrospective Images.  Great resource for ideas.

One Final Word

Remember to ALWAYS end a retrospective with real actions that someone has taken responsibility for and that have a timeline.  Without those two outcomes, you have wasted your time.

By | 2016-10-25T16:20:16+00:00 May 28th, 2014|agile, agile fundamentals, Retrospective|0 Comments

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