Efficient Agile Retrospectives with Improved Follow-Up on Action Items

Efficient Agile Retrospectives with Improved Follow-Up on Action Items

The key point of doing Sprint Retrospectives is helping your team to keep nourishing a continuous improvement spirit in a concrete and fast manner to effectively implement its outcomes.

Retrospectives purpose, in a high-level sense, is to “plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness”, as stated on Scrum.org, and its principal outcome are Action Items that serve to achieve concrete progress during the rest of the project.

You definitely need a plan to follow up on those items and make your sessions worth the time.

Topics to check

  1. Having a successful Retrospective session
    a. Timing
    b. Duration

  2. The Retrospective structure
    a. Set the stage
    b. Gather the data
    c. Generate insights
    d. Decide what to do

  3. Assigning Action Items

  4. Coming up with an Action Plan

1. Having a successful Retrospective session

Let’s kick off by reviewing how to properly conduct a Retro. First of all: Remember that a lack of structure or direction will mostly result in a meeting where people blame each other for failures or unattended tasks, drawing away any sense on actually holding the session, as it would only waste everybody’s time, your most valuable asset.

Now that we are on the same page, we will set some general lineages to follow:

a. Timing

As mentioned before, it should be done after each Sprint. It is also recommended to celebrate a Retrospective session to review a major product release or the whole project has ended.

A big picture Retrospective can bring different ideas on what could be improved than the ones conceived during the Sprint ones.

b. Duration

The duration of your Retrospective should be proportional to the duration of the Sprint that you'll review. A formula that could work is to invest 30 minutes per Sprint week. But try not going beyond two hours!

If your session extends over an hour, be sure to throw some relaxing activities into the mix or even add a 10 minutes break.

2. The Retrospective structure

The Agile Retrospective format that most teams base their sessions in is the four-step formula:

  • Set the stage
  • Gather the data
  • Generate insights
  • Decide what to do
a. Set the stage

You already know that you should engage every participant with some activities. After the team has connected, the data gathering phase starts.

As in any Agile ceremony, there is not a single way to do this, but there are three questions that you could ask to get some useful insights:

  • What went well during the Sprint?

  • What didn't go as well?

  • What happened that could be improved in next iterations?

b. Gather the data

This phase serves various purposes, but mainly will get everyone synced and will expand their perspective on the issues and achievements. But over all: It will help the team agree on which are the most important issues to attend.

What went well examples:

  • Estimations were accurate in most cases, letting the team deliver on time.

  • All the Development team was available during business hours to help understand some components structure.

  • Daily Stand-ups focus shifted from Round Robbin to Walking the Board, reducing their duration.

What didn't go as well examples:

  • The Definition of Done didn't required documentation, causing a lack of information about some components, slowing down integrations.

  • Daily Stand-ups still took more than 30 minutes, which caused disruption for some attendees.

  • Access to some tools wasn't shared early, causing some delays in task completions.

What could be better examples:

  • Require documentation as part of the Definition of Done for next iterations.

  • Try to maintain Daily Stand-ups' duration below 15 minutes.

  • Add all tools access to the shared virtual value so anybody can use them as required.

c. Generate insights

After gathering and checking the data, you will be good to go with the analysis of it: What does the data tell? Did you fail to work on past Action Items? Why do you think that happened and how could it be prevented in the future? Does the team agree on which are the main issues to solve?

d. Decide what to do

Now that you are aware of what happened and the reasons why it did so, you should come up with actions to address any issues that made it to the final cut.

Our recommendation to easily go through these phases is using Agile Retrospectives for Jira or Confluence. This add-on was developed by SotwareDevTools to help teams work better while keeping cost-saving wise. It has proven to be key for remote and large teams, which find using it easier than trying to recreate a face-to-face session.

When we designed these easy to use add-ons, we decided to improve on 3 main elements:

Visibility: A collaborative Retrospective that allows for real-time collaboration. No more taking turns results in a lot of time saved (Remember that time equals money). Also, everyone has access to the session's results at any time so they can go back and check on past sessions items' status.

Engagement: The tool includes custom templates to use your favorite Retrospectives technique, collaborative voting and real-time assignment of Action Items. This makes for dynamic sessions that are easily accessible for everyone.

Follow-up: This is a tricky one. Creating Action Items in our app was not enough to help teams effectively keep them on their top of mind. Now, when working with Confluence or Jira, you can turn any Action Item created during the session into a task and add it to the correct board so it will not go unnoticed.

Take a look at how does Agile Retrospective for Jira works in this video quick walkthrough:

3. Assigning Action Items

You have had the conversation and the team has agreed on the things that need a follow-up during the next Sprint. Now: Who is going to make sure these items are delivered and who is, in fact, working on them? This should be based on the priority and the work stream.

Think of the following case: If you need to check on a bug bashing process, you might want developers working on that, but it may be wise to ask a product management person to check that the times and ways in which it is conducted, fit with the overall project.

A simple formula to effectively manage your Action Items is:

  • Every task should have an owner, specific to-do and deadline.

  • Task completion criteria should be crystal clear.

  • Ensure the assignee has all the tools to complete the task.

  • Keep balance: One single person cannot handle all the tasks.

  • Make sure all the Action Items are present in your project management tool.

4. Coming up with an Action Plan

If you cover these five points, chances are your follow-up actions will be correctly incorporated into your next Sprint. This will be the origin of your Action Plan, which basically comprises all your Action Items with the correct structure that will let you pursue an effective goal.

According to Creately.com, your Action Plan should include the following:

In conclusion, you have learned some tips to make the best out of your Retros. Remember it is not really a valuable exercise unless the Action Items originated from it are followed up. That is why Agile Retrospectives will help you do the hard job of ensuring everyone has got their assigned item in their backlog. No more forgotten tasks nor delays!

Please let us know how helpful has been Agile Retrospectives for you.

Highlights summary

  • An agile retrospective requires a good structure in order to be effective. Never forget to go through the appropriate phases -Setting the stage, gathering data, generating insights and deciding what to do in order to constantly improve.

  • The concrete output of a retrospective are action items that must be assigned to a team member. This person has to make sure it gets added in the following sprint.

More about Agile Retrospectives:

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