After a sprint or other significant effort, the BobaBoard team usually holds a retrospective to discuss what went well, what didn't, and how we can improve in the future.
What is a retrospective
A retrospective is a meeting (or, in our case, "a thread") where volunteers involved in a project reflect on the work done, and surface both positive and negative experiences. The goal of a retrospective is to improve the experience of those involved in future projects by identifying areas that are working well and areas that need rethinking, without assigning blame to specific contributors for issues that might have arised.
At the end of a retrospective, the team should have some answers to the following questions:
- What have we learned that we didn't know before?
- What has worked well during this effort (and thus should be continued)?
- What has NOT worked well during this effort (and thus should be changed)?
The retrospective mindset
The most important point to internalize is that retrospectives are a blameless process. Given a problem that happened, the goal of a retrospective is not to identify who caused it and whether they should have behaved differently, but what—other than people being perfect all the time—could have been done to prevent the issue from happening, or to lessen its impact.
In our own process, we especially value "The Prime Directive of Retrospectives":
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
Note that this does not mean that people are not responsible for their actions, or that people who consistently cause problems should not be held accountable. However, a retrospective is not the place to do so.
Retrospectives in practice
Before a retrospective
A retrospective is usually scheduled a few days after the end of an effort. In the time between the end of the effort and the retrospective, volunteers should:
- Reflect on the effort and think about what went well and what didn't, both in their personal work and in the team effort as a whole. It's important to think about both positive and negative experiences.
- Prepare points to bring up during the retrospective, ideally in written form. It's common to forget about issues during the retrospective itself, and a list can be very helpful.
- Think about actionable improvement that could have helped mitigate some of the issues. It's important that improvements be framed not in terms of changing people's behavior, but in terms of changing the underlying process that led to the issue.
During a retrospective
Ms Boba starts a retrospective thread, and pings everyone involved in the effort.
Ms Boba shares the agenda for the retrospective, and reminds everyone of the purpose and mindset of the retrospective.
Everyone shares their thoughts on what went well and what didn't, and we look for common themes.danger
While giving feedback is a fundamental part of the retrospective process, it is important to do so with kindness and respect. Please be mindful of your tone and language!
Once the main issues have been identified, we discuss actionable improvements that could have helped mitigate them.
Ms Boba summarizes the discussion, and we decide on a few actionable improvements to implement in the next sprint.
During a retrospective, try to refrain from using the word "you". Instead of saying—or thinking!—"you should have done X", it's important to frame the discussion as "we should have done X". This helps keep the retrospective focused on collective improvement rather than individual blame.
After a retrospective
A succesful retrospective should result in a few actionable improvements that can be implemented in the future, ideally in the very next sprint or effort. These improvements should be captured in the appropriate places, and ideally filed as issues in our repositories when applicable.
What if I...
...can't think of anything to say?
If you can't think of anything, that's ok! Just come to the retrospective, listen to the issues and solutions that others bring up, and be ready to share your thoughts, even if it's simply agreeing or disagreeing.
...am not available while the retrospective is happening?
Ms Boba is always available to collect people's thoughts before the retrospective, and (given permission) will bring them up herself to make sure they're discussed. If you can't make it to the retrospective, please share your thoughts with her beforehand.
After the retrospective, a summary should be available for people to catch up with. Please read the document carefully, and let us know if there are additional points or thoughts you'd like to share. The retrospective thread remains open after the meeting itself.
...am worried about being the only one giving feedback?
Ms Boba will always be present in the retrospective, and always has things to discuss. It's unlikely that you'll be the only one giving feedback! Regardless, a retrospective is valuable even if only one person shares their thoughts, and we encourage you to do so.
...am worried about others taking feedback personally?
Retrospectives are a blameless process that requires team members to trust each other to give feedback kindly and respectfully, and to receive it with an open mind and a growth mindset. While emotions are a natural part of the process, it's important to keep them in check and not let them take over. If you feel someone is not living up to these expectations, please let Ms Boba know privately. Likewise, if you feel you're not in the right mindset to continue a discussion, let Ms Boba know so she can redirect the discussion or call for a break.
If there is an issue you're particularly worried in bringing up, you can also share it with Ms Boba before the retrospective, and she will bring it up herself without revealing your identity. We also have an anonymous feedback form that you can use to share your thoughts.
...have an issue I want to bring up outside of the retrospective?
You should always feel free to bring up issues, either in private with Ms Boba, in the relevant channels, or in our feedback form.
Note that we may not be able to discuss or solve all issues the moment they come up. If the team has no bandwidth available (for example because urgent work is currently happening), we may need to postpone the discussion until a more appropriate time.
Regardless, it's important that your concerns be heard and acknowledged, and that a plan is made to address them in the future. At the time when the issue is brought up, Ms Boba will give you an estimate of when the issue can be discussed, and will follow up with you when the time comes. If that shouldn't happen, please don't hesitate to ping her!
Appendix: Why blameless retrospectives?
When a problem happens, it's human tendency to look for someone to blame. While this is a natural reaction, it's not a productive one: blaming someone for a problem does not solve the problem, and it does not prevent the problem from happening again. It also makes people afraid of making mistakes, which negatively impacts the culture of the project and of the organization as a whole.
Blameless retrospectives are a way to break this cycle. By focusing on the process rather than the people, they help participants learn from mistakes and grow as a team, without feeling the need to hide issues away or look for a scapegoat. They help us build a culture of trust and respect that makes participating in our project a positive experience for everyone involved.