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Retrospectives. Are they useful?

27.5.2013 | 2 minutes of reading time

Are retrospectives useful? Or are they just a waste of time of all the people involved?
Could they be dangerous? When are they useful? Do they really bring process improvement?

Retrospectives (especially agile retrospectives) are by now a well-known practice.
At the same time this is the practice that many teams are reporting having abandoned after short period of initial usage.
Retrospectives are usually touted as a means of process improvement, although, in my practice, I have not seen that many retrospectives actually dedicated to one.

I find the practice of retrospectives very useful, when they are run properly. At the same time, I have seen cases (in some I am guilty as well) when retrospectives could be really dangerous and demotivating for the team.

Patrick Kua considers retrospectives to be very useful, when they are run in a hostile environment for a team with dysfunctional team dynamics.

In my experience, I come to value retrospectives as a very useful way to bring the team through the stages of the classic Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing cycle. For the teams, in which I took part the retrospectives were useful for:

  • establishing common rules;
  • building trust and voicing concerns;
  • creating a bigger picture and getting to know, why things are the way they are;
  • determining what needs to be done and committing to do it;
  • uncovering risks and bringing up interpersonal issues early.

Results of the retrospectives were better team climate and environment, where issues could be raised and solved safely, better trust with the customers, progress in solving issues and a general feeling of a better functioning team.

Is this useful? Is it worth it?
In my opinion: definitely yes.

Are there cases, when retrospectives could be dangerous?
As well, definitely yes. When retrospectives are being focused only on what is not functioning, and do not show actionable way on what could be improved, and do not lead to actions, they definitely could demotivate the whole team very quickly.

If you want to learn more about topics touched here, discuss your experience related to retrospectives, raise your questions or learn something new related to retrospectives, and agility in general, we will be glad to see you at the 1. Agile Stammtisch Frankfurt (with the main topic of course being retrospectives).
It will happen on 13. Juni at the coworking space “Die Zentrale” at Berger Str. 175 in Frankfurt (Subway: Bornheim Mitte).

Think about it and come to visit us!


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