Most agile methodologies have some way of analysing past behaviour, recording it for future reference, and modifying that behaviour for the betterment of the team dynamic.  SCRUM uses something called a ‘retrospective’. This takes the form of a meeting at the end of each sprint where the team write down their thoughts on the positive and negative aspects of the previous iteration in an anonymous fashion and then the group categorizes, discusses and decides on how to act on them.

The Extreme Retrospective combines the ideals of the retrospective with the personal and repetitive nature of the stand-up.

How it works

This activity only works with team sizes of around 5 or so as the nature of the Extreme Retrospective means the time taken to complete it increases geometrically as you add more team members.

To perform an Extreme Retrospective

Get the whole team together
Take your team and find a room where you can all sit down comfortably.

Each team member contributes
Normally the dev lead would start this the first time to show how to do this, but you can – and should going forwards – start with anyone.

Only one team member talks at once
This is the most important rule; Justifications, defences, and rebuttals are not allowed.

Be Self Critical
The person who is receiving the feedback can do one of two things. Take it on board and act on it or ignore it and continue as before.  This is a personal decision.

Give a ‘Feedback Sandwich'
In turn, go around each person in the room giving them a ‘Feedback Sandwich’, one piece of positive feedback followed by a piece of constructive feedback and finishing with another piece of positive feedback.

Move to your right
Start with the person to your right and continue anti-clockwise. Once you have done this for everyone in the room the person to your right continues. They start with the person to their right and end with yourself.

Repeat till complete
Carry this on until everyone in the room has given a ‘Feedback Sandwich’ for everyone else.

Why do this?

The retrospective is all about changing behaviour for the better.  It involves identifying things that individuals, and the team, do well and emphasising them and altering or diminishing those behaviours that do not work so well or are causing conflict.  It also does this in a personal and accountable manner, the opposite of how some retrospectives may be run.  By forcing team members to think about each other and spell out positive character traits as well as their perceived flaws you can bring down the walls that separate the team. The outcome of this will be a team that functions better, is able to easily identify problems and successes and is also able to comfortably give feedback to team members at any time, not just during the retrospective. This is especially pertinent for new teams that haven’t worked together before, but don’t let the fact that you’ve been working in your team for ages and you think you all work well make you think this isn’t for you.  It is! And if you do this, your team will be even better.

Timing

The first few times this will be a very uncomfortable exercise and it will take some time, maybe up to an hour or so. Do not let this put you off! As you become more familiar and used to doing it not only will this come easy to you and your team, but it will be come a quick and painless activity that you can chew through at the end of the day. Your goal should be to spend less than 15 minutes on this each time you do it.

In terms of frequency.  Do this as often as you can, whether that be one or twice an iteration or every day or so.  You’ll quickly notice a more enjoyable working environment but more importantly a better, more efficient team dynamic.

Written by Simon Middlemiss