This blog post was written in collaboration with Luis Ortiz from Nearsoft
Agile software development is all about delivering incremental value to the user and the continuous improvement of the team member’s abilities to do so. Continuous improvement is a challenge that Agile methodologies address in the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto:
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
However, there’s still a lot of misconceptions and errors when it comes to retrospectives. Most of which we will discuss in this post.
This is an even bigger challenge for distributed teams, since they are not in the same room and can’t share a physical space.
To help facilitate the process, teams can leverage their PM platform, especially remote teams.
And since 58% of respondents of the State of Agile Survey use Jira, here’s how to leverage your Jira projects to host efficient Agile Retrospectives. We have also worked in Confluence which includes retrospective blueprint (template), or you can also use an app like Agile Retrospectives for Confluence, but this article shows an alternative approach based on JIRA.
Note: Atlassian also has a good overview on retrospective best practices here.
Why are Agile Retrospectives important?
First of all, we’ll start by stressing the importance of Retrospectives within the Agile framework.
Agile retrospectives might be regarded as overhead, or considered as “Post-Mortem” meetings, but these are held only when the project is concluded (not during the lifetime of the project).
From an executive’s perspective: “Why would the whole team stop everything they’re working on just for playing with post-its? Especially when they could actually be building something of value.”
Agile coaches around the world will agree on the fact that the retrospective is the key to your products incremental value. And most of all, it’s key for your team’s continuous improvement in the long term.
Without a retrospective at the end of every sprint, Agile wouldn’t be the same. Issues wouldn’t be fixed before you can prevent them from snowballing into proportions difficult to manage. And you definitely would be missing out on the long-term benefits of Agile.
Keep in mind, feedback is important for any system to work to it’s best capability. Just have a look at this post. And so is agility.
The 5 stages of agile Retrospectives
As you might already know, Retrospectives have 5 stages (Find out more in this article “Agile Retrospectives for Beginners”). We’ll briefly describe them and explain why Jira is the perfect tool to leverage and have your Retros within.
In this case, we will be using the “Agile Retrospective for Jira” app to demonstrate and facilitate the process.
The 5 stages of Agile Retrospectives are:
– Set the Stage
– Gather Data
– Generate Insights
– Decide what to do
– Close the retrospective
1. Set the Stage in Jira
A retrospective is a place for everyone on the team to share. Setting the stage involves creating that “safe space”. Everything from the venue, to the TRUST needed for people to freely share.
JIRA is the perfect “Venue” to host your retrospectives since you already have all of the sprint information there. So it’s easy to follow up and to have in consideration for future sprints. Just choose your preferred conference software and have the entire team connected and with their camera on.
In order to build trust in your team, there needs to be transparency and accountability about the results. The team needs to feel engaged.
Here’s where an app like Agile Retrospectives for Jira comes in handy. The app will make the entire process totally transparent. Meaning everyone can see what’s being input and will actively be participating.
Agile Retrospectives for JIRA Dashboard. See relevant information from all of your Retrospectives.
Of course, some people need privacy to feel comfortable bringing up personal or professional issues (as is the case with eastern cultures). So you can set an anonymous input mode. Where issues will be input, but the author will not be revealed. This will allow for more and better ideas and issues to be brought up. Which makes for a far more productive Retrospective session.
Using the Agile Retrospectives for Jira app means the stage is set for an efficient session. Every time.
2. Gather Data
As mentioned above, the team collectively inputs issues to be discussed. During an in-house team Agile Retrospective session using a whiteboard where the team takes turns to input ideas, these give way for “Groupthink”.
Groupthink is that phenomenon, where the first person brings up an issue, the whole team seems to agree or nod and any future comments on that issue will be withheld. This is not ideal since you want to know everyone’s perspective on a given issue.
It’s a much better approach to have every team member input ideas separately, without fear of judgement or bias.
To gather data in the Agile retrospectives for jira app, the entire team inputs their ideas or issues at the same time. They all answer the questions inputting as many ideas as they’d like, which will not be visible for the team until the next step.
Agile Retrospectives for JIRA. The team inputs ideas. To avoid groupthink, none of your teammate’s ideas are visible.
There are many Retrospectives plans that can be used and it’s important that you have the flexibility to try many different plans until you find what really works for your team. (Agile Retrospectives in JIRA let’s you set & name many columns to try your favorite Retrospectives plan.)
You’ll notice that this simple change in your team’s dynamic will result in a great improvement in your session’s productivity.
After inputting the ideas, the team can group them. Grouping is necessary because topics are bound to be repeated, but you’ll get everyone’s perspective.
3. Generate insights
At this stage, we filter all of the topics to see which ones the team value the most. As well as decide on which topics we are going to work on first.
This involves a team discussion.
To generate a discussion Agile Retrospectives has 2 steps to generate insights: *Vote* & *Discuss*.
You can also customize the voting preferences to limit the number of votes per player and topics. This is a great way to prioritize and filter the ideas worth your while.
Agile Retrospectives for JIRA – Session settings. You can name your session, select the number of columns and change the name of each, and also limit the number of votes per player, and per topic.
Making it a transparent process also increases engagement and gives transparency to the whole process. Voting & discussing each issue will let us get an idea of what’s really considered an issue for the team.
4. Decide what to do
This is the most important stage. It is also the most overlooked.
Your retrospective session is of no value if your result is a complaint or a very broad statement like “QA needs to improve”. The result should be a team agreement about what to do about the issue.
It should be expressed as an ACTION ITEM. This is the Most Valuable Output from your Retrospectives.
But it’s also worthless if you don’t follow up on it. And, as we all know, that happens far too often. That’s why an action item should take the shape of a Jira task or an item on your checklist.
Using Agile retrospectives makes this even easier by creating Jira tasks to be added & assigned in the retrospective dashboard and on your Jira project.
Agile Retrospectives for JIRA let’s you turn your resulting action items into JIRA issues for an improved follow-up.
Again, a small feature that results in great improvements.
5. Close the retrospective.
Closing the retrospectives can be a formal agreement. Or it can be a very casual nod from the team members agreeing about the resulting action items.
Afterwords, the entire team agrees on who to assign as an action item owner. The person assigned is not who’s performing the task. It should be who’s in charge of making it happen. Again, this is easy to do using Jira.
Note: Read this blogpost if you want to know more about Jira.
During each stage of the ideal agile retrospective, there needs to be transparency, ownership, and accountability. And each team and project should have its own record of the resulting action items from previous sessions.
As you may have noticed by now, It makes perfect sense to hold your agile retrospective inside Jira. Even more when your team is geographically distributed.
The real challenge about achieving continuous improvements using agile retrospectives is engagement and follow-up. And even more so in distributed teams.
If you’d like to optimize this process, you can use Agile retrospectives for Jira. This app helps you achieve a productive and efficient session for all of your organization’s teams inside each of your JIRA projects. The very same platform where the team has all of the project’s information.
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