The Benefits of Retrospectives

World Retrospective Day is held at the end of February each year to bring awareness and share in the power of retrospectives.

Across the world, Agile teams use retrospectives (‘retros’) to look back and discuss their progress and collaborate with a team. UPMC Enterprise is no exception. Development teams at UPMC Enterprises use the Scrum/Agile methodology to tackle some of the most complex technology problems in health care through two-week sprints. At the end of each sprint, retrospectives are held to celebrate success and dissect failures.

Before discussing the activities of #WorldRetroDay, let’s discuss why retrospectives are so important to Scrum methodology. When participating in a retro, each team member is encouraged to discuss the following three points:

  • What worked well for us?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What actions are we going to take to improve this process?

Similar retros are performed using the “Stop, Start, Continue” method.

Scrum Masters encourage employees to answer these questions during retro meetings to foster an open, collaborative environment without setbacks or roadblocks. This employee-led discussion creates an atmosphere of honesty and trust without senior management and encourages employees to make improvements on their own.

“Retrospectives allow for teams the opportunity to pause, evaluate, and adjust. A well-done and beneficial retrospective should yield actionable items and occur regularly. Retrospectives encourage teams to improve and prevent costly mistakes by allocating time to routinely evaluate themselves,” Rick Pollick, Lead Scrum Master, UPMC Enterprises.

Without ongoing retro meetings, the philosophy behind the Agile Method would certainly be diminished. The first value of the Agile Manifesto states, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” encouraging collaboration and teamwork amongst each other. The entire goal of operating in an “agile” manner is to do something incrementally; adjusting and improving both the team and the process along the way. One of the key ways interaction and review are achieved is through a retrospective. Taking time to gather and collectively discuss how things are going will contribute to the overall well-being of a team, project, and/or product by: promoting understanding, addressing areas of concern, and increasing the visibility of progress.

UPMC Enterprises celebrated this year’s World Retrospective Day by sharing new techniques to improve our retrospective processes. The hour-long session was divided into two groups. The first group, focused on psychological safety during a retro and the second group, facilitated a mock-retro to collaborate with fellow colleagues and improve how we manage bi-weekly retro meetings.

The first breakout session focused on techniques used to make team members feel accepted and respected. During this presentation, Scrum Master, Justin Celo, discussed the roles each team member should play in addition to how the Scrum Master needs to have an acute sense of situational awareness to create a safe environment.

The second retrospective activity was a discussion with Scrum Masters and developers on the successes of past retrospectives in the Stop, Start, Continue format. After submitting suggestions for Stop, Start, Continue, attendees addressed each section individually through discussion. For example, Scrum Masters suggested under “Start” comments to try a different style of retro each time, in addition to using the same retro style each time. This debate encouraged open conversation to the pros-and-cons to consistency and diversity in meeting layout.

Under the “Stop” column, we discussed whether management should be included in all retrospectives. When these meetings are held, developers aim to create a safe space where there is no fear of push back or consequences for a missed goal or failure during the sprint. While our management team at Enterprises is supportive and collaborative, conducting retros among fellow developers encourages the freedom to solve problems on their own. And finally, we shifted our focus to the “Continue” section of our meeting, which included suggestions such as ‘creating action to improve processes’ as well as ‘critical participation’.

Want the chance to work alongside our team of developers and Scrum Masters who are shaping the future of health care? Take a look at our open positions.