Retrospectives are simple, but not easy. The general idea is to get the team together, establish a context, gather relevant data, develop insights, and decide what actions to take. Esther Derby covers the retrospective structure well in a slide presentation on her blog.
Retrospectives are about improvement. That improvement comes through action. If we look at the differing retrospective plans on the retrospective wiki, we'll notice that nearly all of them mention action items as an intended outcome of the plan.
Assuming the retrospective went well, the team has agreed action items. Now what?
Benefit, Action, Measurement, Timeframe
Action items are great, but there needs to be more to it. You should be able to answer the following questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- What are we doing?
- How will we know?
- When will we see the benefits?
If you have agreed action items with no intended benefit and no means to validate the result, I suggest you reconsider the change. Changes always impact the team. Changes most often impact the team in multiple ways, some of which we cannot easily detect. I am not against change. Improvement cannot happen without it. Given our environment and systems are in a constant state of flux, change is necessary. But I do caution against change without purpose and measurement.
With not only action items, but clarity around them, we are ready to introduce Memory Lane.
Memory Lane is a simple technique to help teams remember their commitments.
Using a portable dry-erase board, record your desired outcomes, the agreed action items, the means by which you'll gather data to validate the result, and a re-visit date. I recommend the portable dry erase board for a couple of reasons; you can take it with you no matter where you hold retrospectives and it holds a limited number of items.
During the next iteration, place the dry erase board in a prominent position in the team room. I suggest near the backlog or in the same space you hold stand up. By making these agreements highly visible and frequently seen, we remind one another what we hope to achieve, the action we agreed to take, and how we're going to measure our results. Some teams do a quick review of memory lane in each stand up.
Make Memory Lane a regular part of your retrospectives. Take the board with you to each retrospective to record new items. Make sure to revisit the items in the retrospective following the agreed target date. Of course, circumstances may warrant an earlier visit or we may decide to defer to another date, but make sure you're checking your progress on the desires outcomes. If we fail to revisit and validate, we may very well be making things worse despite feeling better about our efforts.