My Agile Life: Fix A Few Things

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

Many Agile methods use some kind of retrospective to review and improve. I adore them but find they can drag for two reasons: sometimes people hate them and sometimes people go overboard.  It can become a venting session or it can become a case of people shutting down.

Personal retrospectives can be a drag as well for the same reasons, though I find it tends towards the “overboard.”

I find that the “overboard” and the “underboard” are part of the same problem – that retrospectives can be overwhelming.  If you want to discuss what went wrong on a sprint or on a project, you can probably easily find tend or even hundreds of things.  This can lead to people endlessly listing off problems – and people trying to ignore then because there’s so many (and their egos feel threatened).

A retrospective needs you to both focus and not be afraid.

What I’ve learned both as an Agilist and in my own life (where I can’t escape any of this) is that you need to limit what you try to improve. When you focus on one or two or a few things to get right, you can get them done – focus on every problem and you’ll never start, or you just won’t try and review your work.

Besides, as you focus on a limited amount of improvements you can also reinforce the issue that many of the problems that came up were already taken care of.  All those hundreds of problems got taken care of by reasonably mature people or a reasonably mature person and it’s probably not worth going over.  Focus on what needs to be improved.

On top of that, the focus on a limited number of issues can take your ego out of it.  You ignore the vast amount of things you can complain about to focus on things you can and want to fix.  It tones down the fear you may feel of going over the many things that did go wrong, dealt with or not.

I’ve found the “power of Few” to be very helpful in that I can focus on getting better in specific ways – ways that have real value.  Plus it doesn’t’ trigger any insecurities

As an addendum, you should always seek to improve outside of reviews and goals. Good opportunities to get better abound all the time, and seizing on them is a big part of an Agile Mindset. It also helps you get used to facing and fixing problems on the fly – so they don’t gum up your retrospectives (and your self-esteem).

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve