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Discovery Through Retrospectives

Culture, Project Management

After a recent round of retrospectives with my teams at the end of last quarter, I found myself feeling overwhelmed with gratitude at how much my team had opened up to me. Not only was I able to get to know them better and see our team's work from new perspectives, but I also discovered many opportunities to better empower and support them. We identified major ways to improve our engagements with stakeholders, discussed steps in making our work processes more efficient, and unearthed tensions that needed to be addressed. I also got confirmation that some of my actions make their lives easier, which felt like a million bucks.

That's when I realized the real value in retrospectives is not only to identify areas of pain or improvement, but to have a space for discovery which opens the door for so much more than that. In this blog, I am going to disclose some ways that my teams have come to some serious realizations during retrospectives and how you can get the most discovery from your own.

Dig Deep - What should we stop doing, start doing, or improve?

These are the typical questions we ask in a retrospective that allows us to recognize areas of improvement or pain points. The important thing to remember if you want to make some good discoveries is to ask these questions both in the context of current processes but also outside of them. Try to think of things that your mind doesn't directly jump to when asked these questions. You can ask questions like: Is there anything we need to change with how we communicate to each other? To the stakeholders? Are certain meetings valuable? How can we improve the meetings? What would make your days easier? What would make incidents less stressful? How can we resolve things faster or remove tension around XYZ? Another important exercise is for everyone to ask these questions of themselves and their team mates. What do I personally think I should stop doing, start doing, or improve on? What would I prefer my team mates start doing or stop doing? Express these points openly and you can get to some truly remarkable discoveries.

Share Gratitude - What should we keep doing?

Another important thing to consider during the retrospective is what the team should keep doing. What is each person doing that makes things jive so well? What do you think you do that adds value? What do you really appreciate about what others on your team do, including the way they do them? This exercise will not only make everyone feel valued and know what to keep doing, but you can also discover ways where you were making assumptions about what is useful to everyone else. You may find that there are some things you have been pouring energy into that doesn't make the difference you thought it did! Now, that's valuable knowledge! As hard working teams, we often go weeks with our nose to the grind, focusing on the outcome. It makes a big difference to step back sometimes and share gratitude with your team to give everyone a reality check on the difference they make.

Personal Preferences

Allowing each person on your team to feel heard and be an individual is imperative to a successful retrospective. Getting to personal preferences is indirect, in that there aren't specific questions you ask to figure them out. Rather, you should remember to ask this question as the discussions unfold. If a team member brings up a point, as every individual what they would prefer, how they feel, what their opinion is. After doing this after many different points, you will start to learn the personal preferences of each of your team mates, as well as what makes each of them tick. Allowing the entire team to discover these details with you improves team dynamics so much because each person can move forward and action on that knowledge. Everyone is different and everyone has their own approaches, ticks, and even "primetimes". What I mean by "primetime" is the time(s) or circumstance(s) under which a person is the most productive. If we all are aware of each other's "primetimes", we can move forward with more flexibility and understanding to maximize everyone's productivity and allow them to flow in their natural rhythm. These personal preference discoveries can also help us inform our decisions how we assign and plan work, go about meetings, communicate, or otherwise.

Allowing Honesty

One last major trend I've seen in my successful retrospectives is allowing a space where everyone can be honest. Most people may be afraid to voice their opinions, whether it be because they think they are the only one who thinks that way or they don't want to be identified as insubordinate. Some basic questions you can ask to get to the bottom of how the team is doing and how the project is going include: How do you all feel with the pace of this project? Do you all feel challenged? Does anyone feel overworked or burned out? How is everyone's work load? Is there anything happening consistently that wipes you out or exhausts you? What would make us more productive or feel more energy around this project? Is this project effecting home life at all? Do we have any pain points with anyone inside our outside our team including stakeholders? Are there any distractions you wish you could remove? What is one thing that would make your day better each day? What or who is annoying you? These questions allow us to get to know our team mates better and help us discover even more ways to make the project go smoother.


Discovering what you do that adds value and makes things easier for your team is vital to understanding what you should keep pouring your energy into. Discovering their personal attitudes, opinions, approaches, and preferences is also vital to continuing a positive team dynamic and boosting overall productivity. So, dig deep with your retrospectives and don't be afraid to get personal. Discover what you haven't yet talked about and talk about it! Discover what you really appreciate in each of the members of your team and tell them! Remember, your team makes the rules, and it's up to you all to create a space for honesty so you can break barriers that can make way for a seamless and enjoyable project.

Managing JIRA at Scale White Paper

TAGS: Culture, Project Management

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