The Power of Retrospection – Linda Rising
After the keynote the day before, I decided to skip “What’s next in the Java Webtier,” “Giving Your Application a Social Life with Spring Social and Spring Integration” and “Tricks of the Trade – What Every Developer Should Know About Application Security“. A hard decision but worth it. Technical details can always be learned later (or never) but social knowledge is eternal.
What’s retrospection? Well, a manager asked what the second guy did while pair programming. Answer: Thinking. Manager: “We don’t have time for that!”
In the struggle of an ongoing project, we are often too busy to stand back for a minute and consider: Are we achieving something or only spinning our wheels?
This isn’t about problem solving, it’s more like a scientific experiment. It’s considering the options, making an assumption, considering ways to disprove the assumption and then doing just that.
See, many problems we face today have no solution. If they had, they wouldn’t be problems in the first place. Customer too dumb and you want to hit them over the head with a cluebat? How could you possibly “fix” that?
But you can try different approaches to improve the situation. Maybe someone else in the team has better social skills to handle a difficult customer? Or you can hire someone to handle them? Or call in an expert to train you on the topic. Or maybe buy a book. Talk to your wife/friends/ask in an Internet forum? Piss the customer off so badly that they never dare to call you again – ever?
As you can see, ideas can start to flow as soon as you power down and sit back to … think for a minute. Maybe none of them works. Chances are: One of them will. But you’ll never know if you don’t take that hour off, walk the stress out of your system and sit down to stare at nothing and think.
That’s a retrospection. It’s a look back. What was good, bad, surprising? What do you want to do more? It’s about fine tuning, not changing the world. Even if you’re Facebook, changing the world does take years.
It’s not about consensus either. If everyone agrees, nothing ever changes.
It’s about reaching closure. It’s about that wall in Washington DC that lists the names of every soldier killed in the Vietnam War. Imagine standing there, reaching out, trying to grasp what all those names mean, what the wall means, how horrible must have happened. And world is still turning …
Your project is killed after two years of effort, huge amounts of personal stress and overtime. Well, at least it’s finally over.
You should think about everything that went bad but don’t soak in it. Also remember what went well. No time? Five minutes can be enough. In fact, it can be better than a two hour retrospective because it will be much more focused.
Keep in mind the Prime Directive of retrospections:
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.