Agile Retrospectives Part 1: Useful Tool or Empty Ceremony?

(Stevie Wonder, CC Image by Thomas Hawk, on Flickr)

Retrospectives have the potential to be a cornerstone of any agile project; when given appropriate attention and done correctly they embody the principles of continuous feedback and improvement and provide a great asset for team progress. Often however, retrospectives are not given appropriate attention, or at least enough attention for them to achieve their potential; and what could be a valuable tool in an agile team’s arsenal is replaced by empty ceremony.

I’ve written this series of posts to attempt to explain the underlying principles of the apparent ceremony that takes place in many retrospectives so that we can gain a richer understanding of why we do what we do.

Being agile involves (amongst other things) having the ability to identify that which is not helping your team achieve their goals and having the power to make a change, or in other words receiving and responding to fast feedback. This same philosophy can be applied to the retrospective. The format of a retrospective is not written in stone, it has evolved over time from collected experience and your typical retrospective format provides good starting point for most, but every team has the power to decide that something is not working for them and adjust accordingly.

 However before you can know if something is useful, you need to know why you’re doing it in the first place. Until your team has this knowledge, much of the retro will continue to be filled with empty ceremony/ritual, which is a bad thing, as ritual without understanding is the foundation of superstition, and as we all know… superstition ain’t the way.

 This is, as I mentioned at the start, what prompted me to write the following posts on some of the “ceremony” that is found in a retrospective and explain the reasons behind these activities, as well as some best practices that I try to follow when facilitating.

Agile Retrospectices Part 2 : The Prime Directive
Agile Retrospectives Part 3: The Safety Check
Agile Retrospectives Part 4: The Action Items
Agile Retrospectives Part 5: The Facilitator

When running the draft past my wife she questioned how I chose the breakdown. I split it up into the following sections purely just because thats just the natural breakdown my brain came up with as I started to think about this post. Don’t expect each post to be equal in length or importance, but just based on the logical steps I believe a restrospective contains.


About the Author: akash


  1. Pingback: Agile Retrospectives: The Prime Directive | blog

  2. Pingback: Agile Retrospectives: The Safety Check | blog

  3. Pingback: Agile Retrospectives: Action Items | blog

  4. Pingback: Agile Retrospectives: The Facilitator | blog

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