Retrospective Prime Directive

An effective retrospective requires a safe space in which the team can honestly and openly communicate. This communication generally involves exploring a period in their recent shared history, e.g., at the end of a Sprint, release, or project, or at a time when the team has run into a problem where it needs to come together to find a solution.

The Prime Directive

The Retrospective Prime Directive comes from Norm Kerth’s bookProject Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews‘. My slightly modified borrowing is this:

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.

At the end of a project [or iteration or after a period of experience] everyone knows so much more. Naturally we will discover decisions and actions we wish we could do over. This is wisdom to be celebrated, not judgement used to embarrass.

The Directive reminds people that, to be successful and to make the most of our time together, we need to be open and honest, but also respectful. We are together to find ways to improve, or to discover solutions to problems, not to find scape-goats or lay blame. Whatever we discover will make us stronger as a team.

Sometimes emotions will run high. As retrospective facilitators we need to make sure that everyone sticks to the prime directive.

Make it visible

At the start of a retrospective I like to remind people of the Retrospective Prime Directive as part of the opening rituals. I also like to make the Directive visible, either by showing a slide, or, even better, by making it a poster in the team’s work area. That way, we can refer back to it as needed during the retrospective, and it is there as a reminder after the retrospective has ended. This is especially useful for retrospectives that last for a day or two.

Retrospective Prime Directive

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