Improving Sprint Retrospective with Scrum Patterns

11 januari 2020

When Scrum Teams discuss too many problems during the Retrospective they may lose focus. That results in shallow decisions that barely scratch the surface. Teams are disappointed and lose faith in the Sprint Retrospective. Let’s see how to improve the event with the Scrum Patterns.

Too Many Improvements Uphold New Challenges

I want to share a story of the Scrum Team I have been working with as a Scrum Master long time ago.

There were too many problems the Scrum Team had accounted for. And there was a pressure to cover all of them during the Retrospective timebox. Therefore, the time spent per item was not enough to conduct in-depth analysis and investigate the underlying causes. Not surprisingly, the quality and depth of the improvement experiments were low. The problems did not go away and stayed over many Sprints. In fact, the number of challenges increased as the chronic disability to improve was a problem itself. From Systems Thinking perspective the Scrum Team got into the vicious cycle (see in Figure 1).

Decreased Team Commitment

There was also one more issue. Discussing too many problems and improvements did not generate enough commitment for the team during the Retrospective. There was not enough time for the team to achieve consensus. Therefore, the actions and follow-through suffered from lack of collective energy and were not implemented. That is how the second vicious loop was created (see in Figure 2).

It turned out through the years that I was not the only Scrum Master who made these mistakes. Let’s see how Scrum Patterns might help to improve the situation.

Improving Sprint Retrospective With Scrum Patterns

The Scrum Patterns are typical solutions that were applied to the well known problems around the globe in different organizations and teams. A pattern is an instruction to shape something we build to increase the “Wholeness of the Whole”. Let’s see how we can improve the wholeness of the Sprint Retrospective. If you are not familiar with the Scrum Patterns yet, the following articles may guide you:

In Figure 3 you can see one of many possible sequences that could be created with Scrum Patterns.

I will put a short description of each of the selected patterns below:

  • One Step at a Time. Attempt one improvement at a time, incrementally.
  • Impediment List. Make all non-trivial issues visible with an Impediment List; raise them up to the right people in the organization for resolution.
  • Involve the Managers. Sustain a management function that can act from a position of power to initiate, and take responsibility for, radical changes in the organization, and deal with impediments that may be too weighty for the ScrumMaster or Product Owner in the Scrum Team.
  • Scrumming the Scrum. Identify the single most important impediment at the Sprint Retrospective and remove it before the end of the next Sprint.
  • Testable Improvements. Write improvement plans in terms of specific concrete actions (not goals) that the team can measure objectively to assess whether the team is applying the process change. 
  • Kaizen Pulse. Alternate periods of controlled velocity with spikes of process improvement.
  • Happiness Metric. Drive the improvement process with a single, small improvement at a time, chosen through team consensus. Pose a question to the team that helps it reflect on which of the alternatives on the table will best tap into their collective passion or sense of engagement, and use the answer to choose the kaizen that will most energize the team.

Remember that there are no “wrong” or “right” pattern sequences. Occasionally a pattern or a sequence doesn’t work as expected, and it makes sense to try another one or to try patterns in a different order. Follow the principle to refine the largest “wholes” first and then proceed to the smaller ones.

How would you use Scrum Patterns to improve the Sprint Retrospective? 🙂

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