Having an independent facilitator for your agile retrospectives

independent-retrospective-facilitatorTo have an effective and valuable agile retrospective, you need to have an independent facilitator. A good facilitator that supports teams in doing analysis, reflection and deciding on the actions. An independent or neutral facilitator doesn’t have an own agenda of improvements, but is focused on helping teams decide on those actions that are best for the team.

Why the Scrum master shouldn’t automatically facilitate the retrospective

How the retrospective is facilitated, and by who, has a huge impact on the outcome of the retrospective. Whoever facilitates the retrospectives must have the proper skills to do it. It is not required that the Scrum master is the retrospective facilitator. To do Scrum effectively it doesn’t matter if the Scrum master or another team member facilitates, or someone outside the team, as long as the person is capable doing it.

In some teams it’s always the Scrum master, as (s)he is the only person who has the skills and knows how to do it. For me, that’s a smell that the team is “not really agile”. Teams should be self organised; having more than one person who has the skills to facilitate the retrospective or having an outside person facilitating the retrospective when needed is a necessity for becoming agile.

Who is most suitable to facilitate the retrospectives depends on the team and the issues that they are dealing with. The person facilitating the retrospective shouldn’t be heavily involved in the issues that need to be solved . The main task of the facilitator is to focus on the process and the culture of the meeting. Making sure that people participate, speak up, listen, and come to a shared understanding.

When to have an independent facilitator

In the post who facilitates the agile retrospective I mentioned that it might be useful to have an independent facilitator with a new team. Such a team is on a journey to discover how to work in an agile way, and that means changing the way people work together which often has a significant impact on the interworking between the Scrum master and the team. It’s hard to get insight into how you are doing and find ways to improve as a Scrum master, and to lead the retrospective at the same time. When you’re a new team, make sure that you have an independent or neutral facilitator for your agile retrospective .

Some other situations when it’s good to have an independent facilitator for the retrospective are:

  • When there have been major problems in an iteration and team members are feeling unhappy with how things are going.
  • When there are collaboration problems between the team and stakeholders external to the team (product owners, line managers, project managers, major customers, etc).

One advantage of having an experienced external facilitator is that they are able to “read” a team and the situation, and pick a retrospective technique that is appropriate. Again, if there are team members with this experience who can combine the team member and facilitation role, then you don’t need an independent facilitator. If not, then I strongly advise having someone outside the team facilitate the meeting.

Do you have an independent facilitator for your agile retrospective?

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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