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Learning through Retrospective with 5 Scrum Values

While Agile is commonly associated with moving forward quickly, it’s easy for the value of the retrospective to remain elusive to practitioners for some time. Looking back on the past can seem like a waste of time to those looking to move forward quickly. It is in this misunderstanding of the point of agility that leads to this impatience with retrospective. An important clarification can help here: Agile is not about moving faster as much as it’s about getting to the right place sooner. It could be the right place with the product you are developing, or it could be about getting to the right place in terms of being a well-formed team.

When hindsight is 20/20, looking back frequently is the only way to move forward on the best course. We want to know what’s worked really well so we can keep doing it, but we also want to know what didn’t work well, so we can change and improve. The retrospective removes the waste of going in the wrong direction while also providing opportunity for course correction. 

That said, before we get into something like the retrospective, we should be able to answer the question, “What is agility?” This has been written about elsewhere, but for now let’s answer with: Agility is bringing good thinking to 
action quickly.

This requires awareness of something needing attention, to then be responded to quickly and effectively with some action. If this is true, then our agility is measured by the speed and effectiveness 
of our responses. This is instructive for increasing our agility, for bringing better and better thinking to action faster.

The key to understanding this instruction is in the idea of awareness. One needs to be aware of something to respond to it. While increasing our awareness gives us more to respond to, doing so quickly and effectively can only get better over time through learning. This is why the retrospective activity is at the heart of any attempt to work in an agile manner, as this is where we stop to take advantage of our 20/20 hindsight vision.

Scrum has identified 5 Values to be instrumental to its process. Understanding how these values fit together is important for bringing interpersonal awareness to your team and its work. These values, whether doing Scrum or not, are critical to keep in mind during retrospective activities.

  1. Commitment - Commitments build trust, enable accountability, and get things done. How did we do on making, keeping, or breaking commitments?
  2. Openness - Sharing our progress is a critical awareness for the team to have as many “in progress” tasks tend to be related. Also, when we are unsure about a commitment, whether to make or break one, we need to be open about our challenges. 
  3. Focus - To hold ourselves accountable in keeping our commitments, we need to keep our focus on our tasks. How well are we managing distractions and interruptions?
  4. Respect - We are the right people, at the right time, for this team, and we do the best we can. Are we accepting of each other?
  5. Courage - It can take courage to openly and intentionally hold and protect these values. The Retrospective is a big event for this value, but we can ask daily if we are speaking up as much as we could.

When thinking about how things are going on our team and in our own work, we can use each of these values to help us generate topics within the retrospective’s two standard categories, “What should stay the same?” and “What might we change?” Over time, if we organize the retro topics people bring up and group them within their affected values from above, we may start to see some trends with our team as being strong in some values, but needing work in others. We can then look into trying team building activities that focus on improving each of the values that our team happens to need to strengthen.

Need some help facilitating your team retrospective?

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