Mikey Allan

Reflecting Retrospectives

I am no project manager and I won’t be writing about Agile techniques in any depth. I do however want to comment on a certain technique and how powerful I believe it to be. The Sprint Retrospective. The qualities of the retrospective are cross-disciplinary but as a designer I will focus on the aspects which helped my processes and the communication of design.

If you don’t know anything about Agile, Scrums or Sprints I found that Agile in a nutshell is a good easy-to-read introduction to it all.

I recently worked on a project which was split into 2 week sprints. At the start of these sprint we defined what we were working on, what was priority and what was realistically achievable within the 2 week timeframe. We beavered away and at the end of the sprint presented our workings to the client. In previous projects we would have taken the feedback, planned the next sprint and carried on with the process.

This project included a sprint retrospective, once again not being a project manager I am unaware whether all sprints MUST have a retrospective or not, but this was certainly my first experience of it.

The sprint retrospective is a meeting where everyone working on a project (in this case the agency and the client) discusses the just ended sprint. The aim is to identify the successes/failures and try to establish some changes or outcomes to make the next sprint more effective.

Sprint retrospective

So we all wrote on a bunch of post-it notes:

  • • What went well
  • • What didn’t go so well
  • • What we can change to improve the next sprint

The act of having to write something down does a number of things. It celebrates the successes which is important for everyone to be aware of. It allows people to raise issues outside of a formal presentation environment and most importantly it forces reflection.

While listening to BBC Radio 4’s Bringing up Britain a professor recalled a study made on a controlled group of university students*. Half of the students were made to take a weekly test based on what they had learned that week, the other half were left to their own devices. At the end of the year, those students taking the weekly test performed better. I’m not advocating that we all take a quiz at the end of the week, but forcing yourself to reflect on what had happened in the last sprint allows you to pause for a minute and identify even the smallest of issues. Quite often it’s these seemingly insignificant issues that grow into large ones if left alone.

The great thing about this technique is that it’s simple and easy, it allows you to identify possible hurdles early on and act upon them for the next sprint. Moreover you can then reflect on the reflection “were the changes made effective?”.

The sprint retrospective is such a simple technique and such an obvious one that I wished I had adopted it earlier. I am even thinking of starting a personal weekly retrospective, structured slightly differently in an attempt to remember more and use that to better myself.

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