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Happy Retros

As part of the regular maintenance for teams at Pivotal we have weekly retrospective meetings, or “Retro”s.

For those of you that are not familiar, it is an hour long meeting which provides a space for open communication on how the team is doing. A retro is an opportunity to discuss what is working and what is causing pain of confusion. During the discussion, everyone identifies items that make them feel happy, confused, or unhappy.

Retros are helpful for developers, who get to step away from the code for a while, as well as for product managers and designers, who can learn how to best enable the developers.

Though there are many best practices for running a retro, I personally do one additional thing different… I start with the positives.

Traditionally, the first round of comments allows for every individual to add a comment to any of the three categories (Happy, Confused, Unhappy). When I run a retro, before that round starts, everyone has to contribute one item to the “Happy” column.

There are two main benefits I see from doing this.
First, it provides the high level perspective that even though many items will end up in the other categories, at least there are some good aspects of the current situation.

Next, it provides the opportunity for someone who was going to add something to as confused or unhappy to see that the same exact item might actually be making someone else happy.

Comments and thoughts are appreciated…
Would this work in your retro?
Are there reasons why you think this is a bad idea?
What additional benefits are there to starting with the positives?

  1. Jim Kingdon says:

    Well, at my last three jobs we write items on the board in parallel (hand out markers and let people at it), so the order of writing it up is a non-issue.

    As for what order to discuss (or vote if we are doing that), I guess I have a weak preference for ending with the happy faces (end on a high note, avoid digressing into sad faces prematurely). But I am not sure it makes a big difference.

  2. Clay Shentrup says:

    Looks like your best practices link is broken. Was it this one?

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