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Easy Agile Podcast Ep.20 The importance of the Team Retrospective

12, Jul 2022
Chloe Hall
Written by Chloe Hall, Graduate Marketing Coordinator

Chloe Hall

"It was great chatting to Caitlin about the importance of the Team Retrospective in creating a high performing cross-functional team" - Chloe Hall

In this episode, I was joined by Caitlin Mackie - Content Marketing Coordinator at Easy Agile.

In this episode, we spoke about;

  • Looking at the team retrospective as a tool for risk mitigation rather than just another agile ceremony
  • The importance of doing the retrospective on a regular cycle
  • Why you should celebrate the wins?
  • Taking the action items from your team retrospective to your team sprint planning
  • Timeboxing the retrospective
  • Creating a psychologically safe environment for your team retrospective

I hope you enjoy today's episode as much as I did recording it.

Listen now on:

Transcript

Chloe Hall:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Easy Agile Podcast. I'm Chloe, Marketing Coordinator at Easy Agile, and I'll be your host for today's episode. Before we begin, we'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land from which I am recording today, the Wodi Wodi people of the Dharawal Speaking nation and pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging. We extend that same respect to all Aboriginal and to Strait Islander peoples who are tuning in today. So today, we have a bit of a different episode for you. I'm going to be talking with Easy Agile's very own Content Marketing Coordinator, Caitlin Mackie. Caitlin is the Product Owner* of our Brand and Conversions Team*. Now this team is a cross-functional team who have only been together for roughly six months. And within their first few months, as a team, mind you they also had two brand new employees, they worked on a company rebrand.

Chloe Hall:

A new team, a huge task, the possibility of the team being high performing was unlikely at this point in time. So, the team was too new to have already formed that trust, strong relationships, and psychological safety, but somehow they came together and managed to work together, creating a flow of continuous improvement and ship this rebrand. So, I've brought for you today Caitlin onto the podcast to discuss the team's secret for success. Welcome to the podcast, Caitlin.

Caitlin Mackie:

Thanks, Chloe. It's a bit different sitting on this side. I'm used to being in your shoes. I feel [inaudible 00:01:45]. I feel uncomfortable. [inaudible 00:01:46].

Chloe Hall:

Yeah. It's my first time hosting as well, so very strange. Isn't it? How are you feeling today?

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. Good. I'm excited. I'm excited to chat about our experience coming together as a cross-functional Agile team, and hopefully share some of the things that worked for us with our listeners.

Chloe Hall:

Yes, I know myself, and I'm sure our audience is very excited to hear what your team's secret to success was. Did you want to start off by telling us what was this big secret that really helped you work together as a team?

Caitlin Mackie:

That's a great question, Chloe. And that's a big question. I'm not sure if there's one key thing, I suppose, it is that ultimate secret source or that one thing that led to the success. I'm sure we all want to hear what that is. I would also love to know if there's just this one key ingredient, but I think something for us, and probably one of the most memorable things that really worked for us, and there was a lot for us to benefit from doing this, was actually doing our retrospectives. So that's probably the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to what led to our success.

Chloe Hall:

Okay. Yeah. In the beginning, why did you start doing the retrospectives?

Caitlin Mackie:

So, we were a new forming team, like you mentioned before, and we seen retrospectives as another Agile ceremony, and we saw other teams doing it and they were having a lot of success from it, so we became to jump on that bandwagon. And I think with being a new forming team, there are so many things that come into play. So, you're trying to figure each other out, how we all like to work and communicate with each other, all of that. And we were the first ever team dedicated to owning and improving our website. And we also knew it was likely that we'd be responsible for designing and launching a rebrand.

Caitlin Mackie:

So when you try and stitch all of that together, and then consider all those elements, we knew that we needed to reserve some time to be able to quickly iterate and call out what works and what doesn't. And what we did understand is that retrospectives are a great opportunity for the whole team to get together and uncover any problematic issues and have an open discussion aimed at really identifying room for improvement, or calling out what's working well, so we can continue to do that. So, I think retros allowed us to understand where we can have the most impact and how to be a really effective cross-functional Agile team.

Chloe Hall:

Wow. That is already so insightful. Yeah, it sounds like the retrospectives really helped you to gain that momentum into finding who your team is, becoming a well-working, high-performing cross-functional team. So, how often were you doing the retro? Were you doing this on a regular cycle, or was it just, "Okay. We have a problem. Some blockers have come up, we need to do a retro"?

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah. I think initially retro, we kind of viewed retros as this thing where like, "Oh, we've done a few sprints now. We should probably do a retro and just reflect on how those few sprints went." It was kind of like this thing. It was always back of our mind. And we knew we needed to do it, but weren't really sure about the cadence and the way to go about it. So now, we do retros on a Friday morning, which is the last day of our weekly sprint. And then we jump into sprint planning after that. So after bio break as well, so let the team digest everything we talked about in retrospectives. And then we come into sprint planning with all the topics that we're discussed, and we will have a really nice, fresh perspective.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

So, I think this works really well for us because everything is happening in a timely manner. We've just had a discussion about the best things that happened in the sprint or what worked really well, so you want to make sure you can practice the same behavior in the following, and vice versa for the improvements that you want to make. So, that list of action items that come out of a retrospective provide a really nice contact, context, sorry. And you have them all in mind during sprint planning.

Caitlin Mackie:

So for example, in the previous sprint, it might have come up that you underestimated your story points or there wasn't enough detail on your user stories. So, with each story or task that you are bringing into the sprint, you're then asking the question, is everyone happy with the level of detail? What are we missing? Or we've only story pointed this or two, is it more likely to be a five? So, everything is really fresh in your mind, and I definitely think that helps create momentum. When you've got the whole team working to figure out how you can be more effective with every sprint.

Chloe Hall:

That's such a great point that you just made Caitlin. And I love how going from doing the team retrospective, that you actually can take those action items and go into your sprint and put them into place straight away. It's really good. Otherwise, I feel like if you do the sprint retrospective on the Friday, and you're like, "Okay, these are our action items," get to Monday sprint planning and you're just thinking of the weekend. That [inaudible 00:07:20]

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah. They're super fresher mind for everyone. So, it might not work for every team, but we find it works really well for us, because we're being really deliberate with how we approach sprint planning.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah. And then with that, I could see how doing the retro, how it could easily go over time, but then your team has sprint planning scheduled after. So, it's like you can't go over time. How have you managed to kind of time box that retrospective?

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, that's a really, really good question. And it is on purpose as well that they are scheduled closely together. Som as mentioned above, the discussion you've had in the retrospectives provides a nice momentum going to the sprint planning, but it does mean we have to watch the clock. And initially, this can be quite awkward, because you want to make sure that everyone feels heard and that everybody has the same opportunity to contribute. And I think this responsibility falls on the scrum master, or the product owner, or whoever's facilitating the retrospective to call it out and make sure everyone has the chance to be heard. You'll naturally have people tell the longer story or add a lot of extra context before getting to the point. And then you'll have others that will be a lot more direct. And I'm a lot like the latter. I struggle to get to the point, which doesn't work well when you're trying to time box a retrospective, right?

Chloe Hall:

And I can relate, same personality.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yes. So with this, I think it really comes down to communicating the expectation and the priority from the get go. With our team and with any team, you will want to figure out who you can perform really well and continually improve to exceed expectations and be better and learn and grow together. And I think if you all share that same mindset going into the retrospective and acknowledging that it's a safe


space to have difficult conversations. And as long as you're communicating with empathy, the team knows that it's never anything personal, and it's all in the best interest of the team. And that then helps the less direct communicators, like myself, address their point more concisely and really forces them to be more deliberate and succinct with their communication style.

Caitlin Mackie:

And that's really key to being able to stick to that time box, I think. And it does take practice, because it comes down to creating that psychological safety in your team. But once that's there, it's so much easier to call out when someone's going down a windy track, and bring the focus back and sort of say, "I hear you, what's the action item?" And just become a lot more deliberate.

Chloe Hall:

Wow. I couldn't even imagine like how hard it would be, with the personalities that yourself and I have, just trying to be so direct and get rid of all the fluffy stuff. I mean, look at what it's done to form such an amazing team that we have. So, you mentioned that aspect of psychological safety before. And how do you think being in a new cross-functional team... Only six months together, you had those new employees, do you think you were able to create a psychological safety space at any point?

Caitlin Mackie:

That's another fantastic question. And I feel like, honestly, it would be best to have a team discussion around this. It'd be interesting to hear everybody's perspectives around what contributes to that element of psychological safety and if everybody feels the same. So, I can't speak for the team, but my personal opinion on this or personal experience is that creating an environment of psychological safety really comes down to a mutual trust and respect. And at the end of the day, we all share the same goal. So, we all really, really respect what each other brings to the table and understand how all of these moving parts that we are working on individually all come together to achieve the goal. So, when we're having these open discussions in retros, or not even in retros, just communicating in general really, it's clear that we're asking questions in the best interest of the team and individual motives never come into play, or people aren't just offering their opinion when it's unwarranted or providing feedback, or being overly critical when they weren't asked to do so.

Caitlin Mackie:

So, none of those toxic behaviors happen, because we all respect that whatever piece of work is in question or the topic of discussion, the person owning that work, at the end of the day, is the expert. And we trust them, and we don't doubt each other for a second. And I think the other half of that is that we're also really lucky that if something doesn't go as we planned, we're all there to pick each other up and go again. So, this ties quite nicely into actually one of our values at Easy Agile is commit as a team. And this is all about acknowledging that we grow and succeed when we do it together, and to look after one another and engage with authenticity and courage. Som I may be biased, but I wholeheartedly believe that our team completely embraces that. And there's just such an admiration for what we all bring to the table, and I think that's really key to creating the psychological safety.

Chloe Hall:

I love that your team is really embracing our value, commit as a team and putting it into place, because that's what we're all about at Easy Agile, and it's just so great to see it as well. I think the other thing that


I wanted to address was... So again, during this cross functional team, and you've got design and dev, how do you think retros assisted you in allowing to work out what design and dev needed from each other?

Caitlin Mackie:

For sure. So, for some extra context for our listeners as well, so in our team, we've got two developers, Haley and David, and a designer, Matt and myself, who's in the marketing. So, we're very much a cross-functional little mini team. So, we all have the same goal and that same focus, but we also are all working on these little individual components that we then stitch together. So,, I think... We doing retros regularly. What we were able to identify was a really effective design and development cycle. So, we figured out a rhythm for what one another needed at certain points. For example, something we discovered really early was making sure that we didn't bring design and dev work into the same sprint. We needed to have a completely finished design file before dev starts working on it. And that might sound really obvious, but initially we thought, "Oh, well, if you have a half finished design file, dev can start working on that. And by the time that's done, the rest of the design file will be done."

Caitlin Mackie:

But what we failed to acknowledge is that by doing that, we weren't leaving enough capacity to iterate or address any issues or incorporate feedback on the first part of that design file, or if dev started working on it and design then gets told, "Oh, this part right here, it's not possible," so the designer is back working on the first part. And it just creates a lot of these roadblocks. So in retros, this came up and we were able to raise it and understand that what design needed from dev and what dev needed from design in order to make sure we weren't blockers for each other. And the action item out of the retro is that we all agreed that a design file had to be completely finished before dev picks up the work.

Chloe Hall:

I think it's so great that you were able to identify these blockers early on. Do you think like doing the retro on a weekly reoccurring basis was able to bring up those blockers quickly, or do you think it wouldn't have made a difference?

Caitlin Mackie:

No, definitely. I, a hundred percent, think that retros allowed us to address the blockers in a way more timely and effective manner. And we kind of touched on that before, but yeah, retros let you address the blockers, unpack them, understand why they're happening and what we need to do to make sure they don't happen again. So, for sure.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah. Yeah. I guess I want to talk a little bit now about the wins, the very exciting part of the retro, the part that we all love. So, how important do you think the wins are within the retro?

Caitlin Mackie:

So important. So, so, so important. It's like, when you achieve something epic as a team, you have to call it out. Celebrate all the wins, big, small. Some weeks will be better than others, but embrace that glass half full mentality. And there's always something to be proud of and celebrate, so call it out amongst


each other, share it with the whole company, publicly recognize it. Yeah, I think it's so important to embrace the wins. It just sort of creates a really positive atmosphere when you're in the team, makes everybody feel heard and recognized for their really positive contribution that they're making. And I think a big thing here as well is that if you've achieved something epic as a team, it's helpful for other teams to hear that as well, right? You figured out a cool new way to do something, share it. If it helped you as a team, it's most likely going to help another team.

Caitlin Mackie:

So I think celebrating the wins isn't even just reserved for work stuff either, right? If somebody's doing something amazing outside of work or hit a personal goal, get behind it.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

To celebrate all the wins always.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah. And I think it's so good how you mentioned that it's vital to celebrate the wins of someone's personal life as well, because at the end of the day, we're all human beings. Yes,, we come to work, but we do have that personal element. And knowing what someone's like outside of work as well is an element to creating that psychological safe space and team bonding, which is so vital to having a good team at the end of the day. Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah, you hit the nail in the head with that. We talked about psychological safety before, and I definitely think incorporating that, acknowledging that, yeah, we are ourselves at work, but we also have a whole other life outside of that too, so just being mindful of that and just cheering each other on all the time. That's what we got to do, be each other's biggest cheerleaders.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah, exactly. That's the real key to success. Isn't it?

Caitlin Mackie:

Yeah, that's it. That's the key.

Chloe Hall:

So, you've been working really well as a new cross functional, high performing Agile team. How do you think... What is your future process for retros?

Caitlin Mackie:

We will for sure continue to do them weekly. It's part of the Agile manifesto, but we want to focus on responding to change, and I think retros really allow us to do that. It's beneficial and really valuable for


the team. And when you can set the team up for success, you're going to see that positive impact that has across the organization as a whole. So yeah, we've found a nice cadence and a rhythm that works for us. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah.

Caitlin Mackie:

Is that what they say? Is that the saying?

Chloe Hall:

I don't know. I think so, but let's just go with it. [inaudible 00:19:02], don't fix it.

Caitlin Mackie:

There we go. Yeah.

Chloe Hall:

You can quote Caitlin Mackie on that one.

Caitlin Mackie:

Quote me on that.

Chloe Hall:

Okay, Caitlin. Well, there's just one final thing that I want to address today. I thought end of the podcast, let's just have a little bit of fun, and we're going to do a little snippet of Caitlin's hot tip. So, for the audience listening, I want you to think of something that they can take away from this episode, an action item that they can start doing within their teams today. Take it away.

Caitlin Mackie:

Okay. Okay. All right. I would say always have the retrospective. Don't skip it. Even if there's minimal items to discuss, new things will always come up. And you have to regularly provide ways for the team to share their thoughts. And I'll leave you with, always promote positive dialogue and show value and appreciation for team ideas and each other. That's my-

Chloe Hall:

I love that.

Caitlin Mackie:

That's my hot tip.

Chloe Hall:


Thanks, Caitlin. Thanks for sharing. I really like how you said always promote positive dialogue. I think that is so great. Yeah. Well, thanks, Caitlin. Thanks for jumping on the podcast today and-

Caitlin Mackie:

Thanks, Chloe.

Chloe Hall:

Yeah. Sharing your team's experience with retrospectives and new cross functional team. It's been really nice hearing from you, and there's so much that our audience can take away from what you've shared with us today. And I hope that we've truly inspired everybody listening to get out there and implement the team retrospective on a regular basis. So, yeah, thank you.

Caitlin Mackie:

Thank you so much, Chloe. Thanks for having me. It was fun, fun to be on this side. And I hope everyone enjoys this episode.

Chloe Hall:

Thanks, Caitlin.

Caitlin Mackie:

Thanks. Bye.




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