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Agile Retrospective Antipatterns that Most Scrum Masters Never Realize

I have published some articles in the past about most common antipatterns - e.g. 20 Product Owners AntiPatterns or 8 Agile, Scrum Antipatterns - Scrum Masters, but today, we will focus on Retrospectives.

I will discuss a few things that many scrum masters fail to realise. You might want to take notes of these antipatterns that make your retrospectives ineffective.

Credits to my references: Agile Coaching by Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley; and http://pivotallabs.com/retro-best-practices/ which helped me a lot in writing this article.

ANTIPATTERN 1: RETRO IS AN ACTIONABLE SOLUTION THAT SHOULD BE OBSERVED

This is one of the most common anti-patterns that I have observed. It's normal that the management expects the people to learn based on the experiences of their co-workers as they share in their "recorded" retrospectives. But the problem here is that people are conscious about what they share during this kind of meetings. Employees have a hard time speaking up knowing that others will be listening to the recordings. They might be afraid that people will see them differently if they become honest and upfront with their ideas.

Solution:
The company should be promoting the said concept as a comfort zone or solution place for the employees where they can be comfortable to voice out the problems that they encounter within the team. It should be a safe place where employees feel free to speak out.

ANTIPATTERN 2: CHANGE THE WORLD

We cannot create a dramatic change overnight. Although it's good to be optimistic all the time, we should still be realistic in setting our goals. It is essential to consider the timeline and the capability of a person or a team to finish the tasks. If we set too high expectations and goals, it may lead to disappointment and low morale of the employees. Functions shouldn't be too overwhelming for the employees to chew.

Solution:
This is another common anti-pattern which has an easy solution. You can improve simple things continually and consistently. Teams should do things one step at a time especially if it's about the implementation of certain changes on some long-time habits. Adjustments are hard in any kind of situation. By taking steps slowly, people can stay focused on the goal and will be able to have exemplary performance.

ANTIPATTERN 3: PROGRESS UNDER TIME PRESSURE

Some people can work better under time pressure others don't. For a period of less than 10 minutes after iteration demo, the team will discuss the circumstances in the workplace which they call a retrospective. With this, the team doesn't see retrospectives as beneficial. The participants might struggle to tool their solutions and ideas if they don't have a room of supporters.

Solution:
The leadership style of the Scrum Master in handling such situation is imperative. The coach let the team understand the importance of what Agile Retrospectives give. The coach can do this by facilitating a workshop. The coach should remember the problems addressed. Constant improvement or change of small things will be helpful for the team

ANTIPATTERN 4: NO ACCOUNTABILITY IS CLAIMED

Making sure that the team member knows their responsibilities is essential. If not, there might be a lot of complications such as conflicts between team members. Blaming each other will most likely be the effect of that. So in Retrospectives, it should be clear from the very start whoever handles which.

Solution:
I would like to give to the group accountability. They should be the one deciding on this matter since they will be the one acting on it. The coach can ask them the question, "How will you solve this dilemma?"
This question is direct to the point and will not cause any misinterpretation. It means that they need to do something to make some changes.
It's normal to hear from them that they can't think of a way to solve the problem, but don't let it stop you. Definitely, you can develop solutions to the problems or come up with ideas to address the challenges. Let them explore ideas but make sure that they don't resort to complaining. Instead should be encouraged to think and act.

ANTIPATTERN 5: WISHFUL THINKING

For any discussion, it's important not to make the points vague. It should be concise, and there should be owners of every idea presented. The team should always engage in discussions. With this, they would realise the things that they need to be able to install the "self-styled activities."

Solution:
Classify the action items as "done" or pending. Refactoring is not very helpful in this problem. It cannot measure if they finished the task already. "Develop Customer Experience evaluation from a failure to a level higher" is attainable thus the group can take simple tasks that can help upgrade these metrics. You can base your actions on Airbrake, New Relic, Airplane, Code Climate, or other equipment facilities in achieving objectives for performance and quality.

ANTIPATTERN 6: MANAGEMENT WANTS INVOLVEMENT

There are times that the management wants to take part in retrospectives. They mean no harm in doing this and definitely, they would want to help out in coming up with the solutions. It's just that this is not an ideal action. There are things that need to be discussed by the core group and influence by outsiders may not be helpful at all. As I've said, people will not be comfortable having an outsider listen to the discussion.

Solution:
Scrum Masters should make a guideline that nobody but the handpicked people can join retrospectives. The task of the Scrum Leader or Master is to mention the topics to the management. But he still should observe confidentiality.

ANTIPATTERN 7: MONITOR IDEAS TO ACTIONS

This is about "what went well and what needs improvement", but none of it was taken into an actionable solution. It will be difficult if the team members will only discuss problems and not the action plans. They need the action plans as their guide. It's not enough to think about the causes of the problem. It's more important to understand the situation and plan effective solutions.

Solution:
There should always be one point person for every action item. Preferable someone who could implement rules and look after the team members. Accountability is important in every situation. Make a checklist and check out the tasks that were already finished.

Everything should be clear, and it should be understandable to everyone. Emphasize that Action Items remain actionable even if they were not viewed right away.

ANTIPATTERN 8: NO EVALUATION OF ACTION ITEMS

In whatever we do, it's important to review so we will be able to assess the points that we need to improve. Analyzing past actions is one key in determining the committed errors.

Solution:
The first part of retrospective should always be the review. This is for the team to check which Action Items has not yet been done. The team should think of a Success Standards. They will then use this criterion on the next retrospective.

ANTIPATTERN 9: BIG TASKS ARE ASSIGNED TO SCRUM MASTER

Scrum Master should not be the problem solver. It's a common idea, but people should stop believing this. The members should be the one solving the problems.

Solution:
One person cannot come up with a solution to every problem. That's why the participation of every member is essential. Each person has a unique style of thinking. With each other's help, they will be able to come up with the best idea to solve the problem.

Do you have other agile retrospectives antipatterns in mind? Or do you simply look for any agile retrospectives exercises ideas or agile retrospectives tools? In case you have any general questions about agile methodology, please Let me know! Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @lgoncalves1979.

Luis Goncalves

Luis Goncalves

Luis is founder & director at Evolution4All. He has spent his career helping orgs become Agile & focuses on transforming great companies into remarkable ones with Evolution4All's unique model.

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