Going Retro: Why Looking Back Can Help Your Team Move Forward

Allison Pankratz  |  December 1, 2015

If you’re an optimist, the best advice always seems to be forward-focused. Set goals for the future. Never look back. Who wants to dwell on the past, right?

But after years of working in a team setting in both marketing and technology, I’ve learned the best way to improve is to look back. If you set aside time for you and your team to reflect on what you’ve done together, you will improve personally. So will your projects.

At Sundog, we use this tactic at the close of each project, as well as multiple times throughout it. This method can also be used whenever a team feels stuck or unproductive. What’s the tactic exactly? A retrospective. It sounds meaningful, right? It is. Plus, you don’t need to be a project manager or be certified in anything to conduct a useful retrospective session.

5 Tips for a Quick & Easy Retrospective

Anyone who wants to re-ignite focus, build a stronger team or gear up for their next project can give it a try. Just follow these five tips:

1. Schedule a time when everyone from your team can attend. The magic of a team retrospective is lost if half the crew has a conflict or cannot attend. Plan for an hour, and ask the team to treat the meeting as required. Feedback is most valuable if everyone can hear it at the same time and in the same room (or via video conference). Bring treats if you must!

2. Make it easy for everyone to participate. We use a simple three-step process for Sundog retro meetings: Keep, Problem and Try.

The flow is so simple that we see 100% participation in our retrospectives. Here’s how it works:

  • Supplies – Bring a stack of notecards and a handful of markers. Everyone takes one of each.
  • Time – Start the timer for 5 or 10 minutes on the clock, depending upon the size of your team.
  • Keep – Ask everyone to jot down what worked well or what they’d like to keep and use again.
  • Problem – Next, ask them to list aspects of the project that felt not so great, or that caused a problem.
  • Try – The only rule (hey, we had to have one!) is that for each problem you write down, you need to create a third pile – a matching idea to try to solve it.

3. Save enough time at the end of the meeting to allow everyone a chance to talk. If you have five people in the room and give them three minutes to stand up and share their notecards, then you’ll only need 15 minutes for discussion. But if you have 20 people on your team, make sure to limit your Keep, Problem, Try note creation at the start of the retro to five minutes or less. Time flies when you’re in a free-flowing discussion, free of PowerPoint presentations and formal agendas.

4. Take notes and share the info. In addition to asking each person to stand up and share their notecards, stick the notes up on the wall while they talk. Identify one person to take notes so the three Keep, Problem, Try lists can be stored in a place where the team can access or reference them again when starting the next project. It’s a great idea to share retro notes with other project teams, too. We love sharing information with other teams at Sundog, so everyone benefits from the feedback.

5. Be constructive. A retrospective is a place where teams can build support for each other by sharing feedback that is useful and constructive. Although frustration can occur on projects, especially those with complex requirements and tight deadlines, don’t use the retro as a place for venting or complaining. Think through your comments before sharing, and if you can’t think of a good try to match with your problem, it’s probably not a productive piece of feedback to share with the team.

Your Ultimate End Goal

When you wrap up your retro, the team should feel happy, heard, understood and ready to move forward together toward project success.

Posted in: Agile Development, Consulting, Project Management, SCRUM, Team Building