Should we do retrospectives when everything goes well?

A question I often get during my talks and workshops is if you need to do agile retrospectives if the team feels that everything is going well. Short answer is yes, improving yourself never stops. Let’s explore how you can do valuable agile retrospectives with teams where everything goes well.

First, let’s assume that the team is right and that indeed there are no problems. The team is able to deliver value to their customers and stakeholders , there are no major impediments, and the people are not under stress and feel motivated and happy doing their work. In this case where things are going well and the team is doing good, you can use agile retrospectives to look for ways to use the strengths that team members poses to go from good to great.

Going from good to great

Having teams in your organization that are doing good is ok, but if you want to stand out in the crowds and outperform the competition then your teams have to become great. They have to do better than average and be able to exceed the expectations of your customers by delivering faster with higher quality. Therefor good is not good enough, teams need to improve to become great.

There are several retrospective exercises that I use to discover strengths and use those to further improve, address future problems, increase performance, or make things go more smoothly. Some of them are:

  • Perfection Game where people state what they like and how they could improve that
  • Core Qualities to discover the positive qualities, strengths that people have.
  • Strength-based Questions to explore existing skills and experience to become great in doing things that teams are already good at.
  • Solution-focused approach, focus on the present and future and examine “what works” in a given situation, and use that to address existing problems

All these exercises help you to learn from things that go well. The knowledge gained can be used to solve ongoing or upcoming impediments or to be better prepared when they pop up.

What if the team is wrong?

Sometimes teams will say that everything is going well to have an excuse for not having to do retrospectives. You, as an agile coach or Scrum master, can see that there are problems. But the team doesn’t want to see them, or doesn’t want to deal with them. What can you do?

There isn’t an easy solution for this. I will explore this in more detail in a future post, but for now my advice is to ask them to do a retrospective with a short and easy exercise. Sell it to them by saying that it only takes little time, and that you are aiming at small improvements only; as the team is doing well there’s no need for large changes anyway.

Doing these small improvements will help to increase confidence that the team is able to reflect and improve. After some retrospectives the team will be ready to take on bigger problems, allowing you to dig deeper.

Keep doing retrospectives

Improvement never stops, it is always possible to become better. Things will change along the way, teams need to adapt to remain valuable. Even if you are good already, there’s value in becoming great. So keep doing agile retrospectives.

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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