A remote retrospective

It’s been a while since I last facilitated an all remote retrospective. Below is an email I sent out to the team I’m currently working with to help us prepare for our first “retro” together. We’ve since held the retro and it went well overall, so I thought this prep and guidance might be useful for others to iterate on.

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Hi All,

On Tuesday we’re going to have a Project Retrospective (aka “retro”). In my experience, retros are hugely beneficial opportunities for teams to learn and grow.

Please take the time to read the rest of this email. It outlines how the retro will run. In order to make the most of our time, it’s best to come prepared. :-)

Retro Goals

  • Learning jointly – From each other’s different perspectives, feelings, and current thoughts about where the team is at since launching the project.
  • Taking action Based on learning together, we identify where we can most benefit from improvement and take action.
  • Strengthening the team – We’re in this together. By listening, learning, and taking action on what we’ve learned, we develop a stronger bond that is bigger than “just the work”.

Ground Rules

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

  1. Be respectful
  2. Be present (no phones, no “side chats/conversations”, no browsing, etc.)
  3. Everyone gets a turn to speak
  4. No interrupting
  5. No judgement on feedback (use “I statements“)

Before The Retro (between now and when we meet)

Please take time between now and when we meet to think about the following in relation to your experience and/or what you observed during your time with the TGE project:

  • What you want us to continue doing
  • What you’d like us to start doing
  • What you’d like us to stop doing

You can add your items to this doc, which we’ll use as part of the retro: Google Doc

The Start

Check-in: We’ll go around the call and have everyone provide one word for how they’re feeling in the moment. Have trouble coming up with a word for how you’re feeling? I know I do sometimes! Try this to help identify a word: https://verbaliststravel.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/the-language-and-vocabulary-wheel-for-feelings-verbalists.jpg

The Middle

Part 1) We’ll use the “Before the Retro” section above to guide the initial discussion. What we want to: continue, start, and stop doing. If you haven’t added your items to each area, we’ll have a short time for everyone to add to each list.

Part 2) We’ll go through each item and open it up for questions/clarification. I will do my best to encourage open, focused discussion that honors our time.

Part 3) Everyone gets 3 votes per area to put against the items they think we should take action on now, not later. You can apply more than 1 vote to an item if you feel that strongly about it.

Part 4) Identify the top item in each area and determine next steps (which can be as simple as identifying an owner to drive the action post-retro). …But what about the other items – aren’t they important too? Yes! But focus is key. Just because an item isn’t made “top priority” doesn’t mean it won’t see progress in the future.

I’m accountable for ensuring the 3 items we identified to take action on make progress. Don’t expect miracles. Some things require a a fair amount of determination over a period of time to show results. My commitment is to continue to provide visibility to the items and help move them forward. Expect this to be part of our weekly meetings, even if it’s just a quick update.

The End

Check-out: Everyone on the call gets a brief (30 seconds or less) opportunity to express closing thoughts/feelings now that the retro is at a close.

Looking forward to learning and improving with you all!

Josh

Silver bullets

silverbullet

In folklore, a bullet cast from silver is often the only weapon that is effective against a werewolf, witch, or other monsters.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_bullet

I’m not sure how many of us in tech are hunting werewolves, witches, or monsters, but there are A LOT of us looking for silver bullets. Take one look around at the world of software development and operations today and it’s baffling. A perfect example of what I’m talking about can be found in this CircleCI blog post, which sounds like nonsense but actually sums up the current state of software development and operations quite nicely. Maybe we’re not looking for silver bullets. Maybe we’re looking for the gold bullet, then the platinum bullet, then we move onto missiles, bombs, etc. It never ends.

I’m not talking about the evolution of technology as a whole. We have a desire to always learn and progress. What we have in software development and operations today is a hyper spin cycle of the next shiny object. Very little of it gets mature enough before it’s thrown out in favor of the new-new silver bullet. Unlike the last silver bullet, this one will kill werewolves AND witches. If you’re a software engineer caught up in this never ending hype you can find yourself using all the latest and hottest tech with so much complexity it will melt the minds of mere mortals. This happens rather easily because the hottest tech often comes from companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc. who are solving extremely large and complex problems. They are generously (and often strategically) open sourcing a lot of that work, which turns into the hottest tech of the month club. But most of us are not solving problems at that scale. When we take their tech and apply it to our problem we can easily find ourselves with a lot of moving parts when only a few would likely suffice for our problems. Multiply this problem by the output of the firehose of “innovation” happening. I put innovation in quotes because what comes to us in the guise of innovation is often a company’s hope to ever so slightly improve upon a good enough solution and take away market share in the process. Even when there is legit innovation, the benefits of adopting a brand new stack or even layer in the stack are questionable when weighed against building upon a solid foundation.

Again, to get the best grasp of what I’m referring to, read the CircleCI blog post. It’s short, funny, and maddening all at once. We need to stop the never ending pursuit of the silver bullet and figure out a more sustainable way to build great services people find value in. Otherwise, I’m afraid we’re spending too much of our time porting or, worse, figuring out how to port existing stuff that works well onto something that is now deemed “better”.