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From Idea To Done: How To Facilitate a Great Retrospective and Bring Your Ideas to Life

David Horowitz May 6, 2021

Brilliant ideas can come from anywhere. In the shower. While waiting in line at the grocery store. And, of course, in the middle of a meeting. However, for some agile teams, the retrospective meeting is where many ideas go to die. The cause of death for these ideas can vary widely. Maybe the idea was outside of scope or there isn't a budget to support the implementation of the idea or - perhaps worst of all - the idea is never shared.

Retrospectives are the dedicated, safe space teams need to inspect and adapt their ideas to drive continuous improvement. However, many agile teams fall into the habit of discussing the problems that have been uncovered during the retrospective and latching on to the first solution proposed to address the problem stifling the chance for the team to creatively develop new approaches to challenges.

Think about it. How much of your retrospective is spent discussing an issue compared to the time you allocate to discussing the specific actions that will be taken to help your team improve?

How do you break this habit? How can you engage your team in a meaningful, well-organized retrospective that generates new ideas, creates valuable solutions that can be incorporated into your workflow, and generates momentum around the solution?

Here are four steps you can take to help your team turn action item ideas into a reality.

1. Give equal access to ideas through anonymous brainstorming

Titles, seniority, experience level, fear of retribution, previous experiences, and a lack of psychological safety are all reasons why team members do not feel comfortable sharing their ideas and experiences during retrospectives.

An easy way to encourage team members to speak out when one or more of these issues is at play is to enable anonymous contributions to the retro. For example, invest in a digital retrospective tool that promotes anonymity. By using a tool that safely encourages those that may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, teams can encourage a more equitable discussion that includes topics that may otherwise go undiscussed. Creating a team with high psychological safety can give meaningful, unique ideas the chance to be shared and explored!

2. Focus the conversation on the ideas that matter most

Problems come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be in the team’s control, and others will be well outside of their circle of influence. And this is where many teams get distracted or feel unable to move forward as they focus on generating a lot of ideas instead of prioritizing their discussion around concerns where they can meaningfully enact change.

Prioritization techniques like dot voting can help your team focus on the most prominent or urgent issues. This saves your team time and prevents the discussion from highlighting topics that may only affect a few team members. By recognizing shared energy around a topic, members of the team more enthusiastically buy into the need to follow through on the idea and the resulting action items.

3. Create a working agreement to move away from untimely ideas

Per my last email. As we previously discussed. You may recall.

We cover a lot of time reviewing what we already know. And while this habit can be annoying in life, when it repeatedly happens in your retrospectives it can directly impact a team’s ability to be successful.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between fully discussing an idea and the repetitive conversations I’m referencing. Before you find your team discussing the same topics in every retrospective or coming against the same arguments in a discussion, take the time to create a working agreement so the team can have a designated way to signal it is time to move on. Your agreement might say that all discussions will start with a five-minute timebox or that team members have the right to hold up an ELMO (Enough, let’s move on!) card at any time during the discussion. This would mean that if someone shows their ELMO card or the timebox expires, the team must check in and extend the conversation only if it’s clear there is a need for additional discussion.

This may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but remember the goal is to create action items that the team is excited to work on. If you have started to speak in circles, you’ve moved past the point of effective discussion and are killing your team’s time.

4. Integrate ideas into Jira to keep top-of-mind

Picture it: the team just had a great retrospective and generated a meaningful action plan to work on. Everyone is excited. Success!

But the action items never make it into the team’s tasks in Jira. The team isn’t reminded about their commitment to the action plan or held accountable for executing on the plan and everyone settles back into their usual routine. Are those action items ever going to be finished? Maybe, but probably not.

By using a tool that guides you through the retrospective discussion and can integrate directly into Jira Cloud, your team has constant reminders about those action items and sets the team up for success.



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