When to gather data for your agile retrospectives

Gathering the data is an important activity of the agile retrospective. In this article, I’ll explore when you can gather the data that will be used as input in the retrospective and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different appoaches.

Gathering data for the retrospective can be done before the retrospective meeting, in the meeting, or both (combined). Below are some advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

Gathering data before the meeting

You can collect data before the meeting using a shared document or workspace, like Google doc, Confluence, Wiki, Slack, etc. Alternatively, as the facilitator, you can ask the participants to send their input to you where you collect it and share it with the team before or at the start of the retrospective meeting.

Advantages of collecting data before the meeting:

  • Gives people more time to think about their retrospective input
  • They can prepare their input when time permits (time and place independent)
  • Sometimes when people reread their input it makes them think of additional things or better formulations
  • Makes it easier for introverts to share their opinion and ideas
  • Possible to avoid groupthink (provided that people don’t see each other’s input)
  • The facilitator can review the input and ask for additions or clarification before the meeting
  • You can use written questions to focus input on a specific topic
  • Easier for people who prefer writing over speaking (note that this can also lower language barriers for retrospectives with participants in non-native languages)

Disadvantages:

  • People might forget to give input or don’t make time for it
  • You may have to follow up if people aren’t disciplined enough to deliver input
  • The amount and quality of the input can vary between people

Gathering data in the meeting

Gathering data can also be done at the start of the retrospective meeting. Typically then it would be the second step, after setting the stage.

Advantages of gathering data in the meeting:

  • As a facilitator, you can interact directly with people when they give input
  • It ensures that there is time for everyone to give input
  • You can timebox it, and when needed extend the time window if additional input is needed

Disadvantages

  • Part of the meeting time is spent on gathering input, so you may have less time for analysis and actions (unless you plan more time for the meeting)
  • People who are more vocal might inhibit others to speak up (there are ways to deal with this)
  • Might lead to groupthink where people who think differently about a topic don’t speak up

Depending on your situation and the advantages and disadvantages I suggest using the approach which fits best. You might want to experiment and find out what works for you in which situations.

Sharing my experience

This article is based on my response to the Software Engineering Stack Exchange question Should we be documenting our Scrum Retrospective feedback before the Retrospective meeting? I’m an active member of Stack Exchange, it’s one of the many fora and online networks where I share my experience.

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.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I like that you mention that it is not always easy to get the figures from everyone before the retrospective… This has been true in my experience.

    I also found that some kind of data is too complicated to collect during the retrospective. On this kind of data, people usually only report impressions or feelings. An example is time spent at different activities. Joe Wright explains how they used Lego to track how they were spending their time throughout the sprint (https://bit.ly/2DBS7KS). In a previous team, we went through a similar situation where the retrospectives were not bringing real improvements (but only moving the problem to a different place). We ended up extracting hard data from our ticket tracking system before being able to find a solution. The full story is on my blog (https://bit.ly/2WXRdkV). We ended up with 25% productivity increase!

    Thanks again for this wrap up.

    1. Thank Philippe for sharing your experiences.

      Sometimes the best thing is to collect data and build a shared view of the problem space at the start of the meeting. When dealing with complex problems, I tell teams to invest in data gathering and analysis, to get a deep understanding. Makes it so much easier to come to solutions to address the situation.

      In other cases it helps when you prepare data up front. Not everyone has to be involved in that, and the better your input is, the more effective your meeting can be.

      Thanks Philippe!

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