Making Release Retrospectives Strategic and Effective: Part 1
The Agile Scrum Framework is based on empirical process control and requires transparency of the process and work product, and ability to inspect so the team can adapt to help it achieve its goals. There are several feedback loops built into the agile framework: Daily Scrum, Sprint retrospective and Release retrospective. I presented the details of Daily Scrum and Sprint Retrospectives in my previous blogs. In this multi-part blog, I will present the details of how to make Release retrospectives strategic as well as effective in order to get the most value from them.
As presented in the Sprint Retrospectives blog, an action plan resulting from a Sprint Retrospective tends to be tactical in nature; and this is by design. If a Sprint Retrospective action plan were ambitious or strategic, not much may be accomplished in the next sprint time-box (typically 2 to 4 weeks). Also sprint retrospectives occur too frequently (every 2 to 4 weeks) to allow an enterprise or a team to achieve meaningful improvements in the strategic metric (related to strategic objectives of the enterprise driving its agile transition as explained below).
A release cycle is typically be 3 to 6 months long, and consists of a sequence of sprints (typically 2 to 4 week time-boxes). The number of sprints in a release cycle, of course, depends on the duration of the release cycle and the duration of sprint time boxes. At the end of a release cycle, a release retrospective should focus on strategic objectives that drive the agile transition of an enterprise. Enough time (3 to 6 months) has elapsed since the end of the previous release cycle which should allow a project to measure improvements in the strategic metric, draw meaningful conclusions from the strategic metric, and develop an action plan for improvements in the strategic metric. Release retrospectives should be used for strategic improvements and should not be frittered away by coming up with an action plan that consists of small, tactical improvements. Sprint retrospectives are the right place for developing action plans consisting of small, tactical improvements. But tactical improvements are not enough. If you focus entirely on tactical improvements, you may lose sight of strategic objectives. Release retrospectives are the right place for reviewing where an enterprise or a project stands in terms of making progress on the strategic objective front.
This often begs the question in many enterprises: “What are the strategic objectives that should drive an enterprise’s agile transition?” When I ask this question in my agile training and coaching engagements with clients, many in the audience don’t know the answer or feel uncomfortable articulating the answer. But that does not mean the question should be dismissed, or relegated to future, or punted away by saying “We don’t know (or probably don’t care) as the strategic objectives are entirely up to our senior management. We are doing agile because we have marching orders to do so.”
This state of affairs is not uncommon, and often leads to poor results and fails to give tangible business benefits from the agile initiative. The prospect of an approaching end of a release cycle ought to start a serious discussion in an enterprise about the strategic objectives driving its agile transition, if such objectives were not properly formulated earlier. If these strategic objectives are not well defined and communicated well throughout an enterprise, the enterprise and its projects will achieve few business benefits from its agile initiatives.
In this blog, I recommend a 5-step process for defining strategic objectives to drive agile transition in an enterprise, implementing the strategic metric, using release retrospectives to analyze strategic metric data, and finally developing and implementing the action plan resulting from release retrospectives.
- Step 1: Define strategic objectives and associated strategic metric
- Step 2: Conduct periodic measurements to collect data to support the strategic metric
- Step 3: Use release retrospectives to analyze the strategic metric data, and discuss likely causes for the issues revealed by the metric
- Step 4: Develop appropriate action plan to address the issues revealed by the strategic metric
- Step 5: Implement the action plan developed in step 4.
I will describe these 5 steps in detail in Parts 2 to 5 of this multi-part blog. Part 5 will also provide you a downloadable template for conducting your own release retrospectives that are strategic and effective.
At the end of Part 5, I will make available a single file version (as a PDF document) of this 5-part blog series.
Part 2: Define strategic objectives and associated strategic metric
Part 3: Conduct periodic measurements to collect data to support the strategic metric
Part 4: Use release retrospectives to analyze the strategic metric data, and discuss likely causes for the issues revealed by the metric
Part 5: Developing and implementing the action plan