Why Retrospectives Should Get Personal

What do you get when you cross a bunch of passionate, self-directed engineers with an agile, iterative approach to both software and personal development? Predictably, you get continuous delivery of customer value and solutions to really hard problems. Additionally, as a nifty bonus, you get a new kind of discussion forum that brings all the best qualities of agile software development to individual improvement: the Personal Retrospective.

Before your imagination goes too far, let me assure you this does not require hugging, silly hats, or revealing favorite brands of underwear. Nor is there screaming into a mirror or "Fight Club" activities of any sort. The Personal Retrospective is an undertaking at Relevance that forms a cornerstone of our company culture and a critical ingredient to our goal of continuous improvement at all levels.

Great Feedback in 60 minutes or Less

The key ingredients for a Personal Retrospective at Relevance are five or so team members who have first hand experience with the subject's recent performance and another Relevance employee who serves as a neutral facilitator for the discussion. During the meeting, the individual is provided with an hour of open and honest feedback which validates and appreciates areas where they are providing their best value to their team and clients, and calls out ways they may not be meeting the mark or have the greatest room to grow.

An agenda is set ahead of time by the subject (with the help of the facilitator) to focus the feedback on areas and goals most important to them. The experience can be extremely positive, giving deeper insight into the impact your actions have had on those around you, as well as deeply emotional as you hear the negative effects even your best intentioned actions have had on the team.

Sometimes there are surprises, though often the subject has at least some notion of where things are not going great, and a critical component of a successful Personal Retrospective is a list of clear action items and mechanisms to encourage and monitor improvement once the meeting concludes.

I Never Thought it Would Happen to Me...

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in my own Personal Retrospective to evaluate current performance as an Agile Project Manager and Coach. Although I had requested the meeting and chose the attendees, it was still quite intimidating to hear several people who I respect greatly talk about me both positively and critically (and often in the third person as guided by the facilitator to ensure the messages are clear and actionable). In the end though, it worked wonders to quiet the distracting internal voice of insecurity by hearing where my efforts are helping the team. Additionally, it helped me understand where I have been dropping the ball, along with recommendations on how to get on the right track.

The guesswork has been largely eliminated in the form of a group of trusted peers stating "This set of things you do, they are really good; keep doing them. This other set of things, you're doing okay, and here are some tweaks to make them better. And this set of things, these actions are having a negative effect on us and the project; here are examples of them and some clear ways to change these behaviors."

Bringing the Love Home

This isn't a review. No money, position, or responsibility changes are made as a direct result of what is said. It is a safe forum for enabling feedback to help folks at Relevance along in their journey. Such a personal and sometimes difficult meeting may not be for everyone nor for every organization, but it is an option you and your team should consider when looking for additional ways to get to the next level of individual and group performance. If you'd like more specifics on how the process works, give us a shout and we'll be happy to help. If it doesn't work, you can always go with the silly hats and underwear stories.