The deep pictures in agile retrospectives

The deep pictures in agile retrospectives

Agile methods, such as Scrum and Kanban, are no longer only used by software development teams, but help a wide variety of teams. The methods rely on an evolutionary improvement process. A core tool for initiating small improvements at regular intervals are so-called retrospectives. 

Why retrospectives?

According to the principle of “Inspect & Adapt”, retrospectives make it possible to take a look at the meta-level of collaboration. This means that – for the duration of a clearly defined meeting – the focus is on the processes in the collaboration rather than on content. 

In this way…

  • potential for frustration within the team is detected early on
  • space is created to openly address topics in the team
  • the knowledge gained can be used to develop measures that make the team more effective and the cooperation more pleasant.

How do retrospectives work?

Retrospectives can take place at the end of an iteration or (sub)project and should have a clearly defined moderator who prepares and guides through the retrospective.

A retrospective can be structured into 5 phases:

  1. Check in: The team comes together, the format and objectives are briefly explained. Since the upcoming process of “meta-conversation” and addressing problems may be unfamiliar to some participants, this introduction plays an important role.
  2. Collecting data: What has happened lately? What went well? What didn’t? What kind of data on quality, productivity etc. is available? The goal is an open brainstorming where all points and thoughts are welcome and collected e.g. on post-its. In the end the points should be grouped and prioritized.
  3. Gaining insight: Why are things the way they are? At this point, an attempt is made to get to the bottom of the cause of the previously collected “symptoms”. Only then can actual improvement be achieved in the following step.
  4. Deciding on measures: What do we want to change? Which behaviours and steps does this affect in everyday life? Who will carry out this change?
  5. Closing: This is a review of the event and possibly a look into the future. With what feeling do the participants leave the retrospective? Has the time invested been worthwhile? What could be handled differently or identically next time? This draws a clear conclusion and the moderator is given the opportunity to improve the next retrospective.

The metaFox deep pictures in Retros

The deep pictures image cards can be used at various points in the agile process – we would like to present two examples below.

Setting the stage / check-in with the deep pictures:

To get started with the retrospective, it is important that all participants open up to their colleagues and the methodology. The topics that come to light in a retrospective are often more human than technical – e.g. certain habits of a colleague, or elements of communication within the team.  Discussing these “emotional topics” in a team of colleagues can seem weird to some. 

The deep pictures can help with these kinds of problems in the following way: 

  • The facilitator of the retrospective (usually the Scrum Master) distributes a deck or a selection of picture cards with the picture facing up on the table or floor in the middle of the participants.
  • Then she invites all participants to choose a card. The selection process can be guided by a question, such as
    • Which of the pictures represents your current personal situation?
    • Which of the pictures describes the team experience in the last sprint well for you?
  • Now the participants are invited to present “their” card to the team and briefly share why this card was chosen. The challenge of choosing a card, as well as the opportunity to communicate through pictures and words, provides a warm-up exercise and makes it easier to address sensitive issues later on.

Although this way of getting into the retro may take a little more time than other methods, it is still worth the investment, as often relevant topics for Phase 2, the “data gathering”, are already emerging.

Closing a retrospective with the deep pictures

At the end of the retro it is important that the participants find an emotionally successful conclusion and are able to translate the relevant decisions into personal behaviour. The deep pictures can also be a useful tool here:

Similar to the introduction, the moderator distributes the cards and invites everyone to choose a picture. Unlike before, the leading question is turned to the now or into the future: 

  • How do you feel after this retrospective? Which picture best describes your condition?
  • Which picture can serve as an anchor for you to successfully implement the insights from the previous phases during the next sprint?