Product teams should be self-improving. They should identify how they can have more impact and take steps to get there. This makes them require less external management (where too much management can be a bottleneck in a fast moving company).
A retro is a blame-free time for a team to talk through how they can improve. They are both phenomenally useful and under-utilised.
If you haven’t done regular retros before, we suggest sending a form out beforehand for the team to fill in covering something like:
- What’s going well, that we should keep doing?
- What’s going badly, that we should stop doing?
- What don’t we do, that we should start doing?
The team can then review in person together and draw out themes. What comes up from multiple team members, or frequently over time? You create actions for how to address these.
Make sure to assign actions to a person along with a date they will be completed by. These sort of tasks are far too easy to let slip. Although this work isn’t directly adding value to users, it multiplies the value the team can create.
Nazlı Ceren Binyıldırım gives her top tip for retros:
“Before collecting what’s going well and what can be improved, you can do an anonymous pulse check to see if people feel comfortable and safe to openly provide feedback on the aspects that aren’t going well. Especially junior team members might not feel comfortable with openly stating what is problematic when their boss is in the room. If you see that there is a safety and trust issue you should fix that first so that you can enable honest discussions.”
Aaron Dey echos this – he says that in addition to the conversation and documented actions from a retro, a simple sprint rating/vote taken at the start of each retro can give a voice to individual team members’ experiences.
Each team member gets one vote and the rating scale can be based on adjectives (e.g. Bad – Awesome) or numbers (e.g. 1-5) – but needs to be simple and understood.
The ratings gives a transparent view on the team’s health/happiness including how issues and improvements affect outputs and outcomes. Over time, it can help visualise patterns, provide perspective and enable conversations within a team, several teams or the whole organisation.
Tom White adds that it’s useful to set the tone at the beginning of retros, as you’re inviting feedback which can be emotive. Set the expectation that feedback is useful and not personal.