When we started Simpatico around this time last year, we went through the traditional branding exercise of authoring company values. Reflecting on past work environments and experiences, we identified what was important to us, and distilled these preferences into six core studio values (found on our About page). The third is Constructs:

We are diligent about deadlines and always aim for transparency and clarity of expectations. But–if processes aren’t working, we analyze, iterate, and make them better.

However, unless there’s a plan for follow-through, we realize that articulating aspirational values is an empty exercise. This begs the question: How do we make sure that we are analyzing our processes on a regular basis? As we enter our sophomore year in 2018, how do we ensure the studio is not just “talking the talk,” but also “walking the walk”?

Today, we’re excited to share how we use “retrospectives” to stay true to our Constructs value, and how we use them  to reflect and iterate on our project management styles, studio practices, team dynamic, and overall approach.

What is a Retrospective?

You may have encountered them as “post-mortems.” Simpatico has opted for the less grim-sounding name “retrospective,” but they’re essentially the same thing: team-oriented activities designed to reflect on past projects, processes and performance. They frame conversation around questions like ‘What went well?’ ‘What needs improvement?’ ‘What actions can we take to improve those things?’, ‘What do we long for going forward?’. These questions help to build bridges between past and future projects, helping any team determine what they should do more of, do away with or change. Lucky for all, these activities aren’t limited by a company’s size.

There’s no shortage of fun activities when it comes to retrospectives. Whatever your concern or focus, there’s an activity for you and your team. Here are some of our favorites:

Framework 1 (for Projects): VANILLA

Though many may have drab associations with the word ‘vanilla,’ this activity and the results it produces are far from bland.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • Whiteboard
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes (3 colors)
  • Timer

Step 1: What went well? (10 min)
Have each team member use green sticky notes to write down what they feel went well (one idea per sticky). As people post their stickies on the whiteboard, the facilitator should group similar or duplicate ideas together. Discuss your ideas briefly as a team.

Step 2: What needs improvement? (10 min)
Same structure as above, but using pink or red stickies. Remind your team that this is about actions and outcomes – not about specific people.

Step 3: NEXT STEPS – What concrete actions can the team take to improve those things?
Have your team use blue sticky notes to place ideas on the board. Group them and then discuss as a team, agree to which actions you will take, assign owners and a due date to get them DONE.

Framework 2 (for Team Health): THREE LITTLE PIGS

Being a small team has its perks: More opportunities for close collaboration, ample flexibility in process, and a lower chance of your lunch mysteriously disappearing (leave the Ross impressions for more corporate environments, please). Even on a small team, however, maintaining team health does require TLC and follow-up — that’s where retrospective exercises come in! This second activity uses the well known childhood story “The Three Little Pigs” to foster conversation about ways to improve on team patterns.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • Whiteboard
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes (3 colors)

Step 1: Draw and explain the participants the 3 columns:
House of straw – what do we do that just about hangs together, but could topple over at any minute? (e.g. “our deployment script is very manual, and prone to error – we could break production very easily”)
House of sticks – what do we do that is pretty solid, but could be improved? (e.g. “our automated tests are pretty good, but sometime they fail for no reason, and we have to run them, which is a pain”)
House of bricks – what do we do that is rock solid? (e.g. “our automated deployment and cutover has never failed. It rocks”)

Step 2: Ask the participants to share their notes on post-it and place on one of the three columns

Step 3: Filtering and group conversation about action items.

Last but not least…

Framework 3 (for Team Health): HOT AIR BALLOON

This simple activity is designed to help your team identify things that make them move faster, and the things that slow them down.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • Whiteboard
  • Markers
  • Sticky notes

Running the activity

Step 1: Ask the participants to write notes and place them on the following two areas: Fire and hot air, and Forces pulling down.
– Fire and hot air: What helps us go higher? What are the things that push us forward?
– Forces pulling down: Which are the forces pulling us down?

Step 2: Group the notes and discuss.

See example here: Hot Air Balloon

In closing …

As we enter 2018 with nervous excitement, we’re looking forward to continuing to learn, evolve, and grow our studio processes, design approaches, and project management principles. If you’re looking to do the same, discover more activities on Fun Retrospectives.

Happy new year, everyone!