What’s the end goal of a retrospective? I am gonna give you a little spoiler the answer is not to put stuff in three columns and fix all the sad items. In this episode we’ll George Dinwiddie’s answer.

Here are a few highlights from George:

I get lots of different prospective on things, technical and human side are extraordinarily important for software success.

Use retrospective facilitation for the first time after coaching TDD for a while to get feedback and reflect on it. I facilitated a 6 people retrospective in our cubicle, someone brought to my attention that I hurt their feelings, was unsure on how to handle that.

I felt like I needed to contribute content even tough I was facilitating. Esther Derby has been a great mentor of mine. She was the first one that first invited me in 2009 to the Retrospective Facilitation Gathering.

Depending on the retrospective we might have different end goals. We start by setting up the theme. Which direction are we going? Maybe we’re trying to fix a particular symptom the team in seeing. Maybe in how to deal something long term, sometime on some external issue, what’s the next thing we want to accomplish.

The way I define retrospective these days is “looking at the shared past together in order to make choices for the future”.

Groups notice things and that helps others to notice. The things that come out are not the thinks they had on top of their head when they went in. The 3 questions are meant to get starter not the end point. A lot of scrum is simplified because it’s easy to teach.

Some people say we already know what’s wrong and how to fix it so we don’t need a retrospective. But they arrived to that conclusion alone and not with the team. And other people may disagree or not interpret the symptoms the same way, they may think the cause of the symptoms is different. And you don’t learn this unless you dig in from multiple prospectives.

Lot of people like to use the 5 whys to go to the root cause of something. In my experience nothing has a single root cause. Any behavior that persistent has a feedback loop that maintains that. People move from 5 why to a fishbone diagram that allows for multiple root causes but if you dig deeper what’s contributing to each of them? If you look you’ll find reinforcing or inhibiting loops within the team, the organization or elsewhere. Once you can visualize it maybe you can remedy. Counteract or balance it somewhere else. Causal Loop Diagrams come from system thinking. There is a lot of books about it out there The 5th discipline by Peter Senge and Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking by Gerald Weinberg.

One of the first facilitation skills I often see is allowing people to voice their thoughts. If you’re rotating facilitator maybe you can learn from each other. You don’t need a professional retrospective facilitator. I haven’t studied facilitation. I learn from some great facilitators. You don’t need huge confidence facilitation skills to facilitate a retrospective. If group is trying to work together they will help facilitate and step in if you overlooked.

Maybe people say we don’t need a retrospective. We see a problem we see a solution. That’s true, don’t wait for the retrospective just do it. During the retrospective I say we need to look at it more deeply at what actually happened. Looking together is the best tool.

Focusing the goal of a retrospective is not always so narrow it preclude someone else’s topic. But if it’s really important to someone that it should be included in the goal of the retrospective. In a team if an individual has a problem the whole team has a problem. The structure of a retrospective is not so rigid, if you’re on generating insights but realize you missed something we can go back to gathering data for some specific issue before you moving again to generating insights.

Retrospective for groups larger then 15 people is where your facilitation skill get more critical. You might struggle to have everyone on the same page. But you can get them more on that. One of the issues I see unwillingness to stick out from the crowd. Exercises when you write first and talk later are helpful. Ensuring it’s a safe environment is also especially critical in large groups.

The retrospective facilitators gathering is a small open space conference. Runs for a week. Pretty open in topic. People get more deep in to the topic. Everyone there is a facilitator. I personally got a lot out of it. You get a lot of different viewpoints. A great change to disconnect from the world and seeing what challenges people are facing and learn from others.

It’s by invitation first to the people that attended the previous year and then goes to the people recommended. People can contact me if they’re interested in early May this year.

Favorite retrospective activity

I pick activities that would help a particular group in a particular situation.

If I have no background on the team I used to use the timeline. But now my go-to is FRIM (FRequency IMpact) by Diana Larsen.

Book reading right now

Making Contact by Virginia Satir

Favorite dish

Steamed crabs with melted butter and spices.


George Dinwiddie helps organizations develop software more effectively. He brings decades of development experience from electronic hardware and embedded firmware to business information technology. He helps organizations, managers, and teams solve the problems they face by providing consulting, coaching, mentoring and training at the organizational, process, team, interpersonal, and technical levels. Involved in the Agile community since 2000, he has helped groups ranging from a 6-person startup to a Fortune 100 company and a billion-plus dollar federal program, either directly or in partnership with other companies. He is the author of Evolutionary Anatomy of Test Automation Code and co-author of Patterns of Agile Journeys.

@gdinwiddie gdinwiddie@idiacomputing.com

George Dinwiddie

Music used in intro/outro is by Krakatoa https://krackatoa.bandcamp.com/album/running-with-wise-fools