Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

Agile Retrospectives and Groundhog Day

Posted on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 @ 06:00 AM

The key to agility is constant improvement. To have improvemenCredit: GeekHeroComict there are two requirements: a desire for change, and an action taken to make that change. This makes a clean delineation into how the retrospective should be divided; look at the past and then look into the future. In the development process a team either adjusts and improves, or continues to see the same problems and limitations

This same "definition of insanity" concept is exemplified by the 80's movie Groundhog Day where weatherman Phil Connors (played by the legendary Bill Murray) repeats his day over and over again until he achieves retrospect on his life, and takes conscious action to make improvements. Sounds absurdly obvious, right? No agile development team would continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, would they? You wouldn't think it is logical, but of course it happens. The reasons why aren’t so clear as Phil Connors experienced; it wasn’t until he experimented with different actions ad infinitum that he realized his only choice was to truly find (and address) the problem. So let’s look at a real-world common symptom of this problem and determine what the underlying issue may be.

“We have too many meetings.” This is a common complaint heard many times with teams new to agile development. The obvious solution is to reduce the number of meetings. This has the effect of crippling the team by reducing collaboration and visibility. So instead, let’s investigate why one would complain about too many meetings:

  • Maybe the meeting takes up too much time. This can be corrected by setting an agenda before the meeting and sticking to it. This is not an easy task but one that recognizes that other people’s time is valuable and should be cherished and treated as scarce commodity.

  • Maybe the wrong people are invited to the meeting. This is commonly seen when the topics or a previous meeting are reviewed in subsequent meeting. Consolidating the meetings appears an easy fix, but requires careful consideration about who should attend a meeting and defining their role: consumer, contributor or both. The complaint of “too many meetings” is often driven by a feeling that time is being misused.

  • Maybe the meeting doesn’t actually accomplish anything. This is a direct result of expecting action to result from the meeting action alone. Create accountability by generating an agreed upon list of actions, complete with owners and due dates, and these artifacts can rectify this problem.

Instead of crippling a budding agile team and reducing collaboration by throwing meetings out the window, I suggest that you might follow these three simple guidelines for each meeting:

  1. Set (and strongly adhere to) an agenda with time allocations.

  2. Carefully consider all attendees and their roles.

  3. Create action items with reasonable time frames.

These three things will ensure that you spend your teammates’ time wisely and allows for each invitee to feel that the meeting is not only a meaningful use of their time, but also beneficial to meeting project goals. 

Whatever path you choose, don’t be like Phil! Make changes to improve the team each sprint, and both success of the team and individual satisfaction will follow.

-Brian Humphrey, 5AM Solutions

Illustration Credit: GeekHeroComic

Tags: agile, agile development, effective team meetings

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