Stoic Sprint Retrospective

A retrospective (retro), is an activity that is run at the end of a set period of time, following delivery of something (software, report, policy). In a retro, the team is asked to reflect on what worked well, what could be improved, or what it will commit to doing in the next stretch of work.

The ‘Agile Alliance’ says the purpose of a retro is to: ‘explicitly reflect on the most significant events to have occurred since the previous such meeting, and take decision aiming at remediation or improvement.’

Interestingly, this definition focuses on reflection. Other examples of the questions teams might reflect on are:

What did we like;

What did we learn;

What did we lack; and

What did we long for.

When I lead a retrospective it is my hope that I can help people focus on taking personal responsibility for what they can control.

I support developers, researchers, testers and business representatives learn new way of working (participating in a retro). By approaching it with old ways of thinking.

I start each retro with a philosophical quote to help prime the participants mindset.

For example:

Marcus Aurelius – Roman Emperor (161 – 180 CE)

“If anyone can refute me, show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective – I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I ‘m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.”

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”

Epictetus – Philosopher (50 – 135 AD)

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, they were ignorant of my other faults, else he would have not mentioned these alone.”

Both of these quotes come from the school of philosophy known as Stoicism, the main school I use in the agile space.

Aurelius and Epictetus were practitioners of Stoicism and both were masters of the daily retrospective.

Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65), another Stoic, would journal in the evening. Examining his entire day, going over what he had done and said, hiding nothing from himself. Marcus Aurelius is said to have journaled in the morning, setting the intention for the day, preparing himself to show up right for his duties as Emperor.

To complete an evening retrospective, the Stoics would ask questions similar to these:

How did I stray away from serenity?

How was I unfriendly, uncaring and unsocial to others?

What did I fail in?

What bad habits did I curb?

How am I better today, than I was yesterday?

We’re my actions just?

What can I do to improve?

This type of detailed, challenging self reflection helps to keep them accountable to their goals. Remain focused on improving. Identify lessons from the day and gives the author new ways of working the following day.

It is questions such as these that each individual participating in a retro should try to answer for them selves.

I believe that while a team should collectively reflect on what has happened in a past sprint, the true power comes from an introspective review. One that can allow for actual change, because the only thing people can control are themselves. Not others.

The original arrival I shared this concept in can be found here.

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