Humility Increases the Value of Agile Retrospectives

One of the most valuable rituals of agile develpment is the retrospective. The retrospective is an event that occurs after the release of completed work or between a set of work sprints where everybody stops, takes measure of what has been completed, celebrates what is working well with the team, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, identifies what did not go well and what areas of improvement can be made to increase performance in the future.

Just prior to the retrospective, we typically perform a demonstration of the working software. Prior to that demonstration, developers usually click around and test the software to ensure that it is going to work in front of everybody. During this last minute review, developers often discover things that don’t work or don’t work as well as they should. Perhaps, we might call that a bug. So, during the presentation, developers are careful to click on the things they know work and avoid the things they know doesn’t work.

This is dangerous.

Of course, we want to have a great presentation. We want to celebrate working software. We want to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments. But, we also want to be truthful and transparent about our failures, missed opportunities, and areas needing improvement.

After the demonstration, we move into the retro. During the retro, we talk about what went right. Time to feel good, be proud, and celebrate. But, after we are done high-fiving and back-slapping, we need to practice humility. We must be humble. We must admit our mistakes, identify our weaknesses and areas needing improvement. If we don’t do that, we never grow, never mature, and never evolve as professionals and as human beings.

The value of a retrospective is directly affected by our humility and ability to be honest and transparent with ourselves so we can recognize what steps we need to take to increase our performance. But, as I always say, “a lesson learned is only a lesson learned if we take corrective action to improve our performance and avoid repeating sub-optimal performance.  Otherwise, it’s not a lesson learned, its just another stupid mistake that could have been avoided.

Be humble.