Monday, March 24, 2014

The Power of Anonymous Retrospectives

The Scrum values - Openness, Commitment, Focus, Respect and Courage are the foundation for the behavior and practices in Scrum. It’s difficult for organizations to adhere to these values from the onset of their Agile journey. Agility is about behavior and cultural changes and the values listed can't be demanded, they have to be earned by creating transparency and is a journey that never ends. 

While coaching Agile teams over the years, I have learned that no matter how open and transparent the organization is, there will be some individuals that won’t openly speak up. They are mostly introverts and have a phobia of public speaking. They will limit their interaction to a bare minimum. In some organizations engineers carry the management fear. They feel like they are being observed and anything and everything they say will reflect in their yearly performance appraisal and they clamp up. In either of these situations or situations similar to these, the Anonymous Retrospective helps get the real pulse on the floor. It helps all the participants open up and talk about what they really feel deep within about the organization, the culture, the people, the leadership, the technology, the motivation factor, etc.  

So what is Anonymous Retrospective? As the name suggests, all data collected is completely anonymous. The first rule of the Anonymous Retrospective is the data collected has to be truly anonymous and there should be no attempt to tie the same to any individual - either through the language used to describe it or with an handwriting match. What I normally do is I put an empty container in the middle of the room and  give each participant a bunch of Post-its. I ask them to jot down their thoughts on what is working well and the areas that need improvement. I emphasize to the participants that this is a Anonymous Retrospective and encourage them to share their thoughts without having an iota of worry. I then ask them to fold the post-its and put it in the empty container. I normally time box this to around 25 to 30 minutes.

Once everyone is done, I get the container with the post-its and give it a good mix. Then I appoint someone neutral to take notes on their laptop and help me with basic categorization. I pick each note and try to read it as verbatim as possible, except for certain cases where there are personal attacks. I read them one at a time in front of the entire room, the person taking the notes captures it, and then I tear the post-it in front of all the participants and put it in the trash can to maintain confidentiality. This is what I mean by "Anonymous".


Anonymous Retrospective will generate plenty of data which has to be validated for its accuracy. Once all the data points are collected, work with the participants in the room to finalize the categorize the data, and generate information by connecting data in each category together.  Following this put an action plan together to address each category. Most likely you will need multiple sessions to do this... but remember you now have some solid facts with which you can incrementally introduce improvements. This is what the power of Anonymous Retrospective is!

I am happy to hear your thoughts.