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April 13, 2011 / KaTe

What are retrospectives for?

“Demon – in religion and mythology, occultism and folklore, a demon or daemon, daimon; […] is a supernatural being described as something that is not human and in ordinary usage malevolent. The original neutral Greek word “daimon” does not carry the negative connotation […] and later ascribed to any cognate words sharing the root, originally intended to denote a spirit or spiritual being.”

So, demons exist. They are as real as me or you, they just don’t manifest themselves as a blob of black smoke or big, red guys with horns and tridents. Right now demons take different forms. For example that mean door switch, which fails to collaborate every time you’re in hurry, or that guy that always finds bugs in MY code, no matter how bulletproof I make it, or that annoying corporate expense tool, which requires supernatural powers to operate.

If you have to face them on your own, I guess you’re in trouble – in most cases at least. You just can’t fight a demon (or can you?)… But what if we just do that as a team? Maybe if we suffer together, that delivery guy will become more bearable. Or maybe we will find a way to never need to talk to him again? So, how to approach demons that haunt your team? Start by indentifying the team. This sounds really easy for the DEV-TEST-QA-BA or delivery/deployment teams – you already have it! Good for you – but what about managers, assistants, receptionists, accountants, graveyard shift security etc? That’s why defining who’s in it along with you is so important. Even with DEV-TEST-QA-BA teams – is your manager on the team with you? Or is he/she your team’s demon? Is your delivery team with you? If they are, great – just face everything together!

You’re probably thinking that it’s easily said, right? – Maybe. But remember – if something’s not impossible, it’s only hard. And if it’s only hard – it’s solvable. Demons can be visible – which means you know about them, or invisible – you will not be able to find out it’s there until it strikes. So, making your demons visible is half of the success – now you can see them and estimate the risk they bring. With your team on it you have multiplied your processing power, so use it to make your life easier. The easiest way to do this on a team is to meet every once in a while to identify what presences stand in your way and maybe someone will have an idea how to get rid of them? Or that new guy will see something that you already forgot about, since you’re so used to it.

The easiest way to put this in action is to hold recurring retrospectives. Invite anyone that is involved and is not the team demon that cannot be tamed. For example if you love your product owner, go ahead – ask him/her to join you. The same applies to the team’s manager, your delivery/deployment people or collaborators that you are working with on a story or two.  On the other hand if you cannot find that string of connection to your PO, don’t send an invitation. But see if someone has an idea how to live with him or her.

So, just use the power of cooperative problem solving. And don’t do this over the phone, sitting by your desk. Meet people you’re working with, look at them, get to know them, see their faces! You cannot tell without looking at all the people – but maybe one of them is a demon?

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