David Caulfield

Questions for teams' retros

Why use different retro questions?

Most teams have workshops called 'retros' where they reflect on the previous couple of weeks and decide what to improve going forward. For most teams, the retro is treated as another obligatory meeting dictated to them by the scrum rules. Teams that have no experience in effective retros see these workshops as a waste of time, and why wouldn't they? The teams that do have retros often have them too infrequently, taking a retro once every couple of weeks. As a result, teams find retros are 'too long' or inefficient because they try to do too much. Instead of taking retros more frequently, teams stop doing them or give up in putting in effort.

One sympton of inefficient retros is to run the workshop again and again in the same way and without any variety in the questions the team ask themselves to diagnose and introduce changes. After the team has asked themselves "What was good? / What was bad? / What should we improve?" a few times, everyone gets bored. Here is a list of questions to help your team find different and interesting experiments to run.

Day to day questions

Mini 15 minute retros everyday can help supercharge the team by bringing in tiny improvements each day. It also prevents those horrendous 3 hour long meetings at the end of a sprint where the saved up all their problems and ideas.

  • What was good today? How can we turn it up? "Turn up the good" is a concept from Woody Zuill and Kevin Meadows' 'Mob-Programming' book. When working with teams, they asked themselves this question at the end of each day.

  • What was the best thing about working together today? This is a good question to see how the team can do more good teamwork together.

  • How many hours did each person spend working with someone else? What would happen if we increased this? A team is not a team if the people are not working together. Increasing the amount of time people pair and mob-program together could supercharge the team.

  • How many hours did we spend blocked by someone else this week? How can we reduce this? Blockages and work in progress are huge areas of waste for teams. Identifying where major blockages are is extremely valuable to help teams do more of the fun stuff.

  • What was our favourite tasks we did in the last 3 months? How can we do more of these tasks?

  • What went really poorly today? How can we prevent it in the future?

Post mortem questions

In the event the team encounter a critical problem affecting customers, they will need to run a post-mortem on the event to diagnose and prevent future issues.

  • What went wrong?
  • What made you nervous?
  • How can we prevent this happening again?
  • Why did this incident happen?
  • What else could go wrong that we got lucky with?
  • What's the worst thing that could happen in this situation?

Worst case scenario analysis

What's the worst thing that could happen your team? It will likely happen at some point. Don't be the team that doesn't prepare for worst case scenarios because it is too uncomfortable to think about.

  • What's the worst thing that could happen us? How to we mitigate that risk?
  • If component X crashes in production, how can we get it back up?
  • What's our bus factor for each responsibility and how do we increase bus factors of 1?
  • What's the worst thing that we own that could happen and impact our customers?

Best case scenario analysis

Analysing a perfect day in the office can give insights into improvements. This is similar to 'turning up the good'.

  • When do you love doing your work?
  • What does the perfect day look like for you?

General improvements

  • What's one thing you've always wanted to try?
  • If we were to fix something permamnently tomorrow what would it be?
  • What's something you learned about recently that you would like to introduce to the team?
  • What tasks feel stale for the team?
  • What's the thing you hate doing? How can we make it less painful?
  • What's the thing you love doing? How can we do more of that?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how good are we as a team?
  • What's the lowest priority thing on our Todo list? What would it take to delete this task from our Todo list?
  • Whats the main thing we do or support that we are known for?

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