Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Retrospective Session?
Whenever we finish a cycle, we need to analyze what went well, what went wrong, and how to repeat the first and avoid the latter. A Retrospective Meeting is a simple way to analyse the past, and plan for the future. It is usually a 40 to 50 minute long session (although this varies a lot from team to team), in which all the parties involved in one event (iteration or sprint) are invited to express anything that they think should be noted by the rest of the team. It is a way to give props to those who did a great job, and also a way to suggest different ways of doing things, in order to avoid repeating mistakes or impediments.
Retrospectus is based on a simple way to manifest how we feel about any event or cycle, allowing all participants to express anything within 3 simple categories:
What made us happy, represented by
What confused us, represented by
What made us sad, represented by
In those 3 columns, any participant can post their idea or message (called "story" or "issue"), and the rest of the team can read it, and agree on it (+1 button). Or they can remember another issue, and register it wherever they feel it should be expressed.
Once all participants have finished inputting everything they want to, the team reads and understands precisely what each item is related to. If there is something that we have to highlight in order to repeat or avoid, we create Action Items.
After we finish reading all 3 columns, we read outloud the Action Items. This usually helps the participants to remember what should be encouraged, and what to stop doing. Retrospectus can also send an email with all this information, so that all participants can keep a copy, and you can follow up.
What do the faces mean?
Events that made us happy. Anything that you feel shoud be done more, because it simplifies your work, it enhances the quality of the product, or it just made you feel awesome! You can also use this column as: Things we should keep doing, Things I liked, Stuff that was right to do or Positive events.
Events that made us feel confused, frustrated or bummed. Sometimes projects have a few details that should improve, that fall short on results, or that simply lack a clear objective. Go ahead, write them down right here. You can also use this column as: Things we should analyze before next cycle, Things that weirded me out, Stuff that I am not so sure about, or Neutral events.
Events that made us feel sad, that brought no satisfaction to the participants, that impeded progress or made things even more complex than how they should be. Go on, this is where the feedback counts the most! You can also use this column as: Things we should stop doing, Things that I did not like, Stuff that was wrong to do, or Negative events.
- Action Items
They are short and very clear sentences that define "what has to be done" in order to avoid mistakes or to repeat the successful results. An action Item has to have an Owner, sometimes it also can have a deadline. These items are the end product of the Retrospective Meeting, so treat them right!
A short sentence that describes the issue or event that made you feel happy, confused or bummed. Try to create them with a simple structure, mentioning what, how, and why. And you can also use an emoji to help describe your feelings further. :D
What if 2 or more people want to write down the same thing? Instead of writing them down more than once, you can just click +1 and it automagically will add the number of people whom are agreeing with that Story.
This shows the total number of times one story was agreed with. This is the result of the +1s that the retrospective participants add to each story, giving you more idea of which issues are the most common among the participants.
We all make mistakes, and this is the solution for when we write down a story that makes no sense, or when we eliminate it because it is included in another story.
Nesting similar Stories
If by some chance you get repeated stories, or that are very closely related, you can easily drag one story and drop it on top of the other. When a story is nested, that receives another one is considered the Parent; in other words, the one that is dropped-on is Parent, even if the dropped story is already nested. No +1's should be lost in the process.
In order to prevent repeating things that the team wants to avoid or replicating successful outcomes, somebody should make commitments towards those outcomes. You need to define a series of actions that have to be done, those are what we call Action Items. We suggest naming only one person responsible for each item, as it helps keep a better track on progress. In some cases, the full team needs to be active about things, so they add the full team as Owner of the Item.
Locking up the session
Retrospectus sessions remain unlocked until the creator of the session clicks on "Lock Retrospective", which means that no user can add new stories, or give +1's. This is a feature that we added to make participants more inclined to add the stories during the Retrospective time, and not after. It also helps when you have team members that need a wide window of opportunity to input their stories. You create the session, email it, and then come back and lock it when your time limit comes. Don't worry, you can easily unlock it, with a click.
What do I do first?
A Retrospective session should be held after a cycle has closed or ended. It is particularly good after important events, such as a product launch, reaching a milestone for your group or organization, or after last saturday's company-wide retreat. Almost anything can be analyzed! The trick is, how will you go about the product of this analysis? Once you have an event to look back into, you need to define the participants. Get their emails, you will need them. Be sure to know that there are only 2 roles, and only one person can be Creator. User is the role for all other participants.
What the what with the roles?
Retrospectus has 2 roles, Creator and User. Creators are the ones who "open" the Session, they can name it, and can also invite more participants. Users would be those participants. Users can see the same as the Creator, but can't perform the same things. Creator can lock and unlock the session, they can nest stories together, and that's about the only difference now. Users can see the stories, invite more users, send action items, create action items, and can edit their own stories.
Other words of wisdom.
Here's a few more suggestions or tips for you. We will be adding more content here, as long as you keep asking us!
Explain the rules
There are basically 3 parts to this exercise. The first one is the Story input. Every participant can write down their stories on any of the 3 columns. All entries are anonymous, although, you CAN see the full list of people who have entered the session. Once all stories have been written, you proceed to the second part: Grouping the stories. A quick read by the Creator or the facilitator of the session is needed. If there are 2 or more stories alike, you should nest them. Just drag and drop. The third and last part, and probably the most important, is the Story Analysis and Action Items. Creator needs to read outloud each story, in order to set the team's attention on the story. A quick discussion sometimes happens, and if the team defines an Action Item, Creator needs to set it on the list, assign an owner, and carry on.
Create a session and invite participants
Create a Retrospective session by clicking on "New Retrospective" on your top nav bar. You can change its name (default is set to date when session is created), add participants by clicking on "Invite a Friend" by email, and let the crowd give you feedback. In case your team has a person that is not in the same room, we suggest video conferencing so that he also hears the session and can participate in it.
Lock the session after you are done
Sometimes we need to go back and read what a past Retrospective session includes. And, sometimes people tend to mess with stuff, because people are curious. No need to worry, as long as you Lock your session. Do this by simply clicking on the "Lock Retrospective". This will allow for users to only see the session, but will not be able to contribute to it. You can unlock it if needed.
Send the Action Item list
In order to be certain that the participants are on the same page, you can send the Action Item list to them. They get the list by email, and should be able to retreive it on their own, as long as they have the URL to the session. It does not matter if it is Locked or not. Pretty useful, eh?
Other tips we've heard...
Some people like to timebox the first part, specially for larger teams. Others also like to let the participants write down stories in one column first, then the second, then the last. It is another way of organizing and being able to get the most out of each column. And finally, we have seen a remote team able to have a retrospective, by letting the first part be open for a few hours, and then conferencing the whole team, after Creator has nested the stories. The analysis is what matters the most, remember.