A Pointless Retro?

I’m a big fan of the Retrospective. I have always thought of it as the most valuable of the Ceremonies. It’s a fantastic way to get a team to open up about what’s bothering them in a way the stand-up’s “blockers” question just doesn’t allow. It’s a safe environment for them to raise anything at all that’s bothering them.

I ran a retro today for the end of my new team’s first sprint, and for the first time I almost wish I hadn’t bothered.

The team has nine members, including me. One was on a course (and missed it), one can’t get into the building yet (and was on the phone), one was working from another building (and was also on the phone) and one was travelling (and missed it). Five out of nine, not a great result for my the first run of my favourite Ceremony.

During the sprint, roughly half the team were out for roughly half the time, some of which was expected and some of which wasn’t. The result was that, while some Good Work has been done, we’ve not delivered much. The reasons for this non-delivery are immediately obvious to all concerned and the sprint is being flagged as “successful” rather than “failed” largely because the team did all the right things at the right time and calling out a failure in the circumstances wouldn’t add any value.

The problem with today’s Retro was that there wasn’t really that much to discuss. One team member isn’t a fan of Retros at all and was very vocal about how the whole thing is a waste of his valuable time (he’ll learn) yet contributed the most in terms of things to get sorted out. “What went well?” was met by complete silence – nobody had anything to call out for protection in future sprints. “What didn’t go well?” had only a couple of token issues: internet connectivity is patchy from time to time and could we arrange some walkthrough sessions for the newbies.

Where I take satisfaction, however, is that the Retro was fitting for the Sprint. As I wrote earlier, in an ideal world, we’d have waited a week or so to start the Sprint and we would have used that time exclusively to make sure that the stories were in a much better state before starting. Outside of that rose-tinted fantasy, however, the team now understand all the things I expect to happen in a Sprint. They’ve attended all the ceremonies, even if only in a half-hearted manner, and doing things better in the next Sprint won’t come as much of a shock to the system.

To answer my implied question in the title of this post, no, the Retro wasn’t pointless. Not as rich and rewarding as many other Retros I’ve run, admittedly, but fitting for the Sprint and the Team and a good use of half an hour of our time, definitely.

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