The integrative retrospective

Use integrative retrospectives for continuous improvement
Written by Martin West
Updated 2 years ago

Integrative retrospective: Most teams perform retrospectives every sprint. They identify what went well, what didn’t, and what needs improvement. These or a similar set of questions are at the core of the 5-step retrospective ceremony. With each incremental improvement, teams achieve continuous improvement.

Common problems often plague retrospectives. Community leaders frequently offer their advice. Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software suggests the following actions in a recent post:

  • For safety — admit mistakes, be positive, and keep confidentiality
  • For boredom — use more variety in question sets and tone
  • For value — measure it & align frequency with value
  • For remote teams — be present, short and fun meetings with good collaboration tools

While all of the above seems good advice, the trouble is that it focuses on improving the ceremony. What everyone needs is the development of new practices and tools focused on the change process. Especially those that support remote teams.

What teams need is a game changer!

  1. A process that builds a shared understanding of what’s constraining delivery effectiveness. That helps teams translate this understanding into action plans and agreements
  2. Safety and empowerment offered in an invitation to effect change across the organization
  3. Focus on effectiveness of change rather than the effectiveness of a ceremony
  4. A set of powerful facilitator tools for each part of the retrospective process, i.e., tools for goal setting, developing insights, building action plans, and aligning through agreement. Each tool has a cadence set based on specific team needs

What does this mean?

As leaders, as coaches, and as teams, you can lead the change: continuous improvement, i.e., you have the ability to drive change within your retrospective process.

You can depend on yourselves to reach higher levels of agility & effectiveness. One step at a time, one change at a time. Change built from within.

This is an evolution of our processes, ceremonies, and tools. You are changing the game.

Retrospectives take on the challenge of surfacing & resolving constraints in the delivery “system”. The constraints come from systemic conflict. Confront the conflict by removing constraints to delivering value.

Shying away from confronting systemic conflict is a missed opportunity. Without resolving the constraints, the change will not occur. Stakeholders need to engage in structured conversations to make it happen. Ultimately, the resolution of these constraints is the path to continuous improvement.

With a toolset for integrative retrospectives, the facilitator can enjoy more effective and structured conversations. Pre-meeting techniques could include self-reflection, time to prep on questions & anonymity on answers.

In a meeting, a facilitated sense-making process may be:

  • review, grouping duplicates, classifying ideas, developing topics list, voting, scoring, or ranking topics
  • building a plan from priorities, agreeing and committing to the plan
  • finally agreeing on what gets communicated.

The interaction is designed and the flow is adaptive based on emerging data and insights. This supports more effective conversations.

The facilitator or lead may be a rotating role within a team. Facilitation quality correlates well with conversational effectiveness.

The tools provide structure and adaptive flow to optimize the interactions of parties. They embed best practice question sets. Knowledge base articles provide guidance on facilitating these conversations. For more difficult sessions, or in onboarding, we offer neutral facilitators. They can lead or support.

Key challenges with retrospectives include cadence and high expectations for meaningful output. The internal team pressures can be excessive. Deliver is often number one. Managing delivery expectations whilst addressing the many variables is tough. Many non-team members don’t understand issues like code complexity, unclear requirements, and refactoring. There are many impacts from outside the team like dependencies, risks,… The list goes on. Delivering “product” and the right “product” at market speed is a tough challenge.

These tools and our service don’t solve that one! Our competency is in the design of the tools to have those conversations that enable you to achieve that. We will be there for you!

We ask you to explore integrative retrospectives. To focus on what’s required to deliver continuous improvement. We’ve identified a 3 step plan:

  1. Start: Select an effective team and use stage 2 — develop insights and stage 3 — build action plans
  2. With success: Add stage 1 — agree targets to make stage 2 target driven. And add stage 4 — align with an agreement to remove constraints from stage 3 — action plans.
  3. Expand with Stages 1,2 & 3 to more agile teams. And engage connected teams to build agreements. Teams like product owners, customers, executives.
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