Retrospective Experience – Self-Assessment plus Circles and Soup

After recapping the previous sprint retrospective actions, where I’m pleased to say we made a handful of small improvements, I introduced the team to the notion of team self-assessments. We all agreed it was worthwhile, so completed SAFe ScrumXP Self-Assessment which despite some disagreements took about 15 minutes.

I won’t share the result, but it’s nice to have a baseline and have clear indication of places we need to improve. We will definitely be repeating this exercise in the future.

We then proceeded through the 5 stages of a retrospective.

Stage 1 – Set the Stage

I noticed in the previous retrospective – see Retrospective Experience – ESVP, Sailboat and Constellation – that there were a lot of negative comments about things we really didn’t have control of. I was therefore worried that this was going to be another negative retrospective and although it risks going against the advice:

“It is extremely important not to use a retrospective to identify purely negative parts of a project”

I thought I’d give a broad context of “anything goes”! I had some positive points up my sleeve, so I decided the risk of focusing on the negative was worth it.

Stage 2- Gather Data

The team split into pairs (with one group of 3) for 15 minutes to discuss the various topics they would like to raise.

Stage 3 – Generate Insights

As I was expecting a lot of negative comments, I decided I’d use a technique I’d recently read about called Circles and Soup. This categorizes all the points raised into the following groups:

  • The team have direct control over so can take direct action
  • The team have influence, so their action would be a persuasive, influencing or recommending action
  • The team may have no control or influence, but they can choose actions for how to respond collectively when they find themselves swimming in the soup​

I was hoping the team would then be able to get some closure on the things out of our control and subsequently put less thought into.

Stage 4 – Decide What to Do

After the groups presented their points to the rest of the team, we then used Dot Voting to pick out the points the team thought were worth further discussion. We then took the top 5 most voted for things and brainstormed some solutions that we could try. It’ll be my job over the coming sprint to make this happen.

Stage 5 – Close

I thanked the team.

Personal Retrospective

The team didn’t produce anywhere near the number of negative comments I thought they would so I’m not convinced Circles and Soup was the best technique to use. It was definitely worth trying, but I think it would be nice to apply this technique once you knew there were a lot of negative things being mentioned, rather than doing it regardless.

What went well?

  • Individually the Self-Assessment and the Circles and Soups worked well.
  • We identified a few team worries about external factors that we can think about and prepare for.

What could I have done better?

  • I should’ve researched and explained Circles and Soup better. I thought it was a self-explanatory technique, but after introducing it to the team, it was clear that it wasn’t. As I couldn’t explain it simply also shows I didn’t fully understand it! I should stop assuming these things are simple and/or the whole team are as keen as me!
  • I distanced myself from the team discussion, so had no idea of the issues being raised. If I was more involved, even if it was just observing more closely, I could’ve swapped out Circles and Soup for something else.

What should I not do again?

  • Although I’ve been acting as ScrumMaster to the team for 18 months, using these types of techniques is new to me. As such, I don’t have the confidence to swap out techniques on the fly. That should come with time though, so I’m not beating myself up about it. Time will tell.
  • Another sign of my inexperience is that I’m too keen to try out all the new techniques I’ve heard of! I’m not convinced doing both a Self-Assessment and a “normal” retrospective is right. I’ll need to read more into this.

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