Can You Handle The Good News?

Today's Bright Spot

Image by cindy47452 via Flickr

During our November meeting of the Ottawa Scrum Users Group, I talked a bit about how retrospectives should be used to do more than just discover things that aren’t working well and ways to improve them.  Often a team can identify problems but do not have the ability to make the changes to correct the problem for various organizational reasons.

The alternate approach is to instead concentrate on the bright spots.  These are the things that are working well and overcoming challenges.  If you can replicate the conditions and settings that produce these successes, then you may not need to address the things that are getting in your way.


For our last iteration retrospective, which was the final one before release, we decided to take a little of our own advice and concentrate entirely on things we are doing well.  This has been a particularly long release that followed on the tail of a quick, well-executed targeted release so everyone would benefit from refocusing on the successes that got us to where we were.

We followed a framework similar to this one from Energized Work.

  1. Quick introduction to describe the retrospective
  2. Thank you notes between team members to get everyone engaged
  3. Brainstorming on all the things we have done well in the recent past
  4. Envisioning exercise to imagine the places we want to get to and how we will get there
  5. Grouping of these ideas into common themes
  6. Selection of top 2 things to concentrate on as we finished the release

Initially, there were a lot of looks of disbelief and a few chuckles as the retrospective was introduced.  After all, it is a little unusual (but not wrong!) for an engineering team to focus positive emotions outwardly.  But it really didn’t take long for people to throw themselves into it.  A lot of the thank you notes focused on effort people put into the iteration.  My favourite when something like this:

Dear _______,

Thanks for always being there to review my code even when you were very busy.

Your pal, _______

From that point on, the team went from positive to positive.  A great dynamic was built as one person’s ideas quickly built upon others.  By the time we started the grouping exercise, even the quietest person was taking a leading role and stepping up for their turn with the stickies on the wall.

In addition to the renewed energy levels, our outcomes from the retrospective were well-focused and easily implementable by the team:

  • continue to pair up / triple up on stories to decrease the time to complete features and to reduce work in progress
  • continue to communicate often and closely between everyone with a stake in the story

All-in-all, it was a very successful experiment and a retrospective format that we will often repeat.  If your retrospectives are becoming stale or not providing your team with what they need, consider running one based on appreciative inquiry.  It is a lot easier than you may thing.

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