Please, no more care-bear Retrospectives

by sebsonconferences

I was stumbling over an article that presented a way to hold a part of a special kind of retrospective:

The purpose of this retrospective is to get only positive cards!

The Basic Idea is to find a positive thing about the things that went bad during a sprint, and this in the phase where we try to gather data.

  • Ask each team member to write cards with things that happened good during the sprint and things that went bad.
  • For each negative card, ask people to find a positive thing about it, and make it a new card
  • Ask people to present only positive cards!

I feel alarmed and troubled when I hear this. This results out of my need of being authentic to people and let them have an autonomous decision on how they feel something went in a sprint/life/job whatever. As a result of this I expect openness and total/brutal honesty when it comes to naming the facts from the teams that enter a room for a retro with me.

I mean this is a pattern we see in parental-ship (Oh little doggy pet died! don’t cry, he is in doggy heaven now) and even in modern communication methods where the hard facts of a “Story” (for example the Drone-war in Afghanistan/Pakistan) are understated to a level of degree that we don’t get the real situation anymore (this is called Meiosis). In full effect I would go as fas as calling it a variant of Orwell’s “Newspeak”. Quote from 1984:

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

We are neither a nation of suppressed people nor little children. There are so many natural safeguards and barriers that people have to overcome when they have to speak up in a retro that I do not want to risk this willingness by not allowing a certain way to take part in a this event.

Let’s see what Esther Derby has to say about the purpose of this 2nd phase:

  • create a shared pool of data
  • ground the retrospective on facts, not opinion
  • consider the objective experience

I find this already very hard to achieve and must admit I find the goals a little hard: Especially the facts, not opinion part. I don’t go for it in every retrospective, especially not the Phase 2 ;). Why? The separation of observations and so called facts is a very hard thing. I tend to do a mad/sad/glad after the team put some observations to the wall, most times in form of a timeline. What happened when, free from judgements and so called facts. These facts are most times hard to dissect from opinion. Mad/Sad/Glad is based on Feelings aka can be pure opinion as well.

This shared thought thing contains the danger that only popular opinions will be accepted. This is not what I want from a retro. I want disagreement, discussion and a group of people trying to work out one or two ideas on how things can be done better the next sprint.

It’s just my opinion that care-bearing won’t help. True, honest communication will. This is hard to do, we are constantly getting fed other types of communication, far from honest, most times not true.

My retrospective, my rules. So in case you are trapped in any of those events with me and think of something as negative, please say so, any moment with your words whatever they are.

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve. Karl Popper