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How to Get the Most Out of Drupal Project Retrospectives

“Agile Retrospectives: A meeting where a team looks back on a past period of work so that they can learn from their experience and apply this learning to future work.” - Rachel Davis, Team Driven Improvements with Retrospectives
 
When doing Retrospectives, it is very easy for the team to dwell more on what happened in the past than creating concrete action items to apply what was learned for future work.  It is very important to note that the main objective of Retrospective is for the whole team (yes, the whole team and not only the team leader like the project manager or scrum master) to drive improvements moving forward. This is the essence of being Agile.  To continuously learn, grow and be better.
 
Last April 20, we launched our new company website, prometsource.com, that was developed in Drupal 8 (D8).  We call this project PSD8.  The development efforts were not without challenges especially that D8 is fairly new and as what other software development shops may also be experiencing, resources are limited for internal projects.  Nevertheless, we were able to launch and the most exciting part, aside from the celebration, is the Retrospective.  
 
How to get most out of Retrospectives?  I would like to share some tips here based on what was done for the Retrospective of PSD8. The tips here are more for the facilitators.

Plan the Retrospective with JOY as a goal.

Ralph Smedley, the founder of Toastmasters, said: “We learn best in moments of enjoyment”.  The JOY in Retrospectives is having fun, building the team, learning and improving.  There are a lot of ways a Retrospective can be done that could be more creative and fun than the usual discussion of “What went well?”, “What went wrong?”, and “What needs to be improved?” For the Retrospective of PSD8, we used the “Three Little Pigs” activity by Steve Wells that is shared in http://www.funretrospectives.com/three-little-pigs/  Prior to the activity, materials such as manila paper, post-its and coloring materials were already prepared. 

Celebrate and appreciate success.
 
Being agile is learning from mistakes, therefore, no project is a complete failure.  There is always a reason to celebrate.
 
A celebration is not without food so for the Retrospective of PSD8, we prepared cake and wine as a means to celebrate the launching of our new website. 

Make people comfortable.   
    
Like any other activity, training or workshop, a sort of “warm-up” or “ice breaker” sets the stage and mood that makes the participants loosen up and be comfortable.  Setting the stage could be as simple as setting expectations, reviewing the prime directive of Retrospectives or discussing guidelines.    
 
For the Retrospective of PSD8, we did a little play reading the script of Three Little Pigs from http://www.primaryconcepts.com/articles/Plays_for_Everyday_3_Little_Pigs.pdf  We assigned developers and QAs as pigs and wolf and as expected, when the “cast” already had some wine, the play became hilarious.

Encourage generation of ideas.
 
If people are all warmed-up and comfortable, the ideas will just flow.  When the meeting started with fun and positivity, even the not-so-good inputs will be stated in a nice and sometimes humorous way.  It is also important to give the the team some time to think and write their thoughts down.  After all the inputs were collected, each item should be discussed and clarified.
 
For the Retrospective of PSD8, we used the art materials and post-its for the generation of ideas.  Colleagues who are joining remotely also provided inputs.  Someone from the team will write their inputs down in post its.    After gathering of ideas, all inputs were discussed and clarified.  Then for each “house”, top 3 themes or highlights were identified by the team.

Create action plans for the improvement to be done moving forward.
 
When the team is hyped with the retrospective, there is a tendency that everyone is motivated to act and improve on a lot of things. Creating action plans for the improvements to be done moving forward is the most important output of the session.  For the plan to be executed, it should be specific, realistic and agreed upon by the team.

 
Since PSD8 is an internal project and the team is also busy with other client projects, at the closing of our retrospective, I just asked a simple question:  What is the easiest we can so as a team that will bring big improvements in our future projects? We came up with two action plans as a result of our retrospective:

  • Be vigilant about clear requirements
  • Practice System Architect mindset

Document and share.
 
A documentation of the Retrospective is like a contract among team members on what should be done to drive improvements.  It can also be a reminder of the fun times, output that the team can be proud of and what should be done to make work better.  If shared, the document can also be a reference for learning of the team or company.
 
After the PSD8 Retrospective, the team is now looking out for each other about clear requirements every time there’s a report that a new project will be done.  Questions such as “What are the requirements?”, “Where are the requirements?”, “Who will write the requirements?”, etc are part of our daily stand-ups.
 
With the outline of these tips on getting the most out of Retrospectives, what then is the measure of a successful Retrospective?  For me, the measure of a successful Retrospective is a noticeable improvement in the team’s dynamics, processes, and output.