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Letting go in retrospectives

When I ran my first retrospectives, I was anxious. I planned meticulously. I tried to anticipate what would happen and what wouldn’t. I had backup plans for my backup plans. And sometimes backup plans for those.

As I moved further in my coaching practice, I became less anxious. Retrospectives were something I’d done before. They were within my comfort zone.

However, I still planned each retrospective.

Trust in yourself

How I prepare for retrospectives has changed in the last year or so. Some of the people I coach comment on the fact I seem to do less preparation than I ask of them.

This isn’t the case.

The preparation I do now is more behind the scenes, part of my day-to-day actions. Something I do as I go along. Of course, things can change rapidly, but I can still fall back on a proper planning session if needs be.

Methods for retrospectives

One of the main reasons I can do this now is the number of methods and techniques I’ve learnt over the last few years. Diana Larsen and Esther Derby’s book is a great start. It is, however, only a start; there are a great many articles and blogs out there on the subject.

A few methods follow one after the other really well; knowing them can save a lot of heartache. Unfortunately, what works for me may not work for you; I’d recommend you try things out and see what happens.

The exception to the rule

This works well, for me, at the team level. As long as I’ve kept track of the team throughout the time frame, I’m usually aware of the main issues and bugbears. As such, any plan becomes self-evident from the data and experiences over the last iteration.

However, I’m not comfortable going in for large-scale retrospectives without a plan. It isn’t a meticulous, crafted plan, but I have the essentials all noted down: exercises and materials needed, timings of everything, and key points that need covering. This is more about the logistics than anything else; it isn’t so easy to rustle up post-its and pens for 300 people or get them into a room, for that matter.

Sometimes things need a plan; I guess it depends on what you’re doing and how comfortable you are doing it.

Want to deep dive on retrospectives? Check out Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great from our reading list

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