Retrospective Smells: Recurring Actions

When the same actions keep coming back in every retrospective, that’s a smell that something is going wrong. In this fourth article in the series Retrospective Smells I’ll explore what might cause recurring actions in retrospectives and what you can do to solve it.

Recognizing Recurring Actions

Often it’s easy to recognize that the same actions keep coming back. When you are the one who usually facilitates the retrospective (as the team’s Scrum master or as an external facilitator) then you will probably see the pattern of repeating actions in consecutive retrospectives.

You might also hear team members complain that the action that the team agrees on was already mentioned in an earlier retrospective. They might say things like “we had the same action before” or “we agreed to do something about it but that didn’t happen”.

Sometimes it’s a little more subtle. For instance when it’s similar kinds of actions that pop up which are not exactly the same. For instance when every retrospective ends with something that needs to be brought up to management. Or that every retrospective is about a lack of process, and the action is to define a process for doing something. The pattern is there, the team is not really improving hence similar problem keeps coming back.

The Retrospective Smells Cards are a tool for Scrum masters, agile coaches, and anyone who facilitates agile retrospectives to recognize smells and solve problems or mitigate the impact.

This coaching card deck includes a card about Recurring Actions as described in this post.

Dealing with Recurring Actions

Often the deeper problem behind recurring actions is that somehow actions don’t get done or aren’t effective. If they would, then problems that call for the same action wouldn’t be happening over and over again.

The things that you can do to deal with recurring actions are:

  • Do a Root Cause Analysis to find out why the team can’t get actions done or why actions aren’t effective. Next, come up with an action that solves the root causes.
  • If actions often aren’t picked up after the retrospective meeting, then ask the team before ending the meeting who will be doing the actions.
  • I see good results when people pair up and two persons take care of an action. You might want to try this.
  • Monitor actions after the retrospective, for instance during a daily stand-up or any other occasion when the team meets.
  • Limit the number of actions that come out of the retrospective. Focus on the vital few actions.
  • Investigate those actions that actually get done. Find out what makes the difference, and use that to solve one or more recurring actions.

Share your retrospective smells

In my series on Retrospective Smells, I’ll provide tips for recognizing smells and suggestions for dealing with them.

This website is all about sharing experiences. So I’d like to hear from you.

Which retrospective smells have you seen and how did you deal with them?

    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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