#8 :: Grow an agile mindset through retrospectives

29-2s It is well known that we learn the most from our failed experiences and our mistakes!  According to Thorndike’s law of effect  it is the negative outcomes that accompany a failure that increase the probability to change or adapt our behaviour in subsequent events. However a recent research attempted to answer that people could learn not only from their failed experiences but from their successes as well! In that research three functions (or methods) that enable us to learn from our successes and our failures were described:

  • Self-Explanation: analyzing our behaviour and trying to find reasons why we failed or succeeded.
  • Data Verification: brainstorming different ways we could have approached the problem and how we might affect the outcome.
  • Feedback: determining whether there is success or failure, and then reflecting on why things went right or wrong and how need to be changed in the future.

The combination of all these functions that characterize a systematic reflection, motivate people to draw their lessons from past failed or successful experiences and eventually trigger a behavioral change.

Based on that research and working in an agile environment, where the attitude on failures, problems, challenges, successes is to transform them into learning that may involve further development and improvement,  i came up with a retrospective technique, as described below, to help teams grow an agile mindset!

retrospective goal

Encourage team members to reflect on the learning (on individual, or on team or both levels) from their failed and successful experiences and based on their reflections adapt or change their behaviour that will enable them to further improve.

retrospective process and practicalities

A board that is split in the following four areas and sticky notes to let team members right their experiences and learning will be needed.

Q1: where i/we have succeed (previous sprint/project/feature e.t.c)

Q2: what i/we have learned from our successes

Q3: where i/w have failed (previous sprint/project/feature e.t.c)

Q4: what i/we have learned from our failures

For every success or failed experience the relevant learning should be written. Depending on retrospective focus, you might trigger team members to think of their personal experiences and learning or on team’s experiences or both.

If you have a large team you might split them in subgroups to work on every area. I’ve tried quite a few times with really nice results. Sharing gathered data is a really important step. More specific sharing personal experiences and learning could increase psychological safety among team members, which in turn create an environment of trust in the team.

After sharing their gathered data on experiences and learning, it is important to focus on how the learning from their experience could trigger changes on personal and team level.

For a normal team (5-7 people) and for a period of sprint, one hour would be enough to cover all the above steps! (15′ gather data,20′ sharing and discuss, 15′ move forward and you will have a few minutes to reflect on the method used!)

facilitator’s tips

As retrospective facilitator you can use some of the following questions that could prompt participants to reflect on learning

how did you contribute to the performance observed in this failed or successful experience (self-explanation)

how effective were you in this failed or successful experience (self-explanation)

consider a different approach that could have been taken. What might have happened if that approach was chosen? (data-verification)

what has been learned from this failed or successful experience? What worked, what didn’t work? How will you behave in the future? (feedback)

personal reflections

I’ve received a really positive feedback from the teams i’ve used this method and this motivated me to share it in this post. I’ve received comments as well that helped me improve it ( secure that there is time for discussion on learning, focus on how could use our learning as a trigger for behavioural changes e.t.c). This retrospective technique will be more effective if you will try it with teams that are working some time together, they had faced various experiences in the past, their members are open to share and are willing to learn! But this doesn’t prevent to use it with new team as well. In that case it might be good to discuss with them about the importance of learning in agile environments, and that learning could happen from both failed and successful experiences!

Concluding for me it was really important that people spend some time and use their failures as information for further improvements and use their successes not only to increase their self-efficacy but as a trigger to revise how they managed to succeed on sth and set even higher goals and standards!

if you’ll experiment with that method, it would be nice to share your experiences and your adaptations!


interesting research

systematic reflection: implications for learning from failures and successes

  1. Great exercise Nikos! I like how you use retrospectives to focus on positive things, things that went well, successes.

    In our book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives we have an exercise called Strength-based retrospectives. Purpose is to explore the strengths that people and teams have and exploit them to address situations that teams are dealing with (see http://www.benlinders.com/2013/using-solution-focused-in-a-strengths-based-retrospective/). A strength based retrospective, using solution focused, is a different approach. Instead of coming up with a list of actions to start doing new things (of which you might not be capable of doing), your actions result in doing more of the things that you are already doing and which you are good at. The goal is to use the strengths which the professionals already have to solve the problems that they have.

    • thank you Ben for your comments! i’ll definitely try the strength based retrospective as well! i think it is really important to support our teams in seeing their strengths and their successes and grow a mindset of becoming even better…sometimes i am having the feeling that people do not like or are not feeling comfortable in retrospectives because the main focus is on improvements that are triggered by their failures (not all people are comfortable with failures…need to work on that)..or things that didn’t work well..instead if the focus is on strengths and successes i am seeing a lot of motivation to move forward!

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