Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Articles Book Excerpt: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Book Excerpt: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

There's a new book on the Pragmatic Bookshelf: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by expert facilitators Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.  InfoQ brings you an exclusive pdf chapter excerpt from this new book.

Project retrospectives help teams examine what went right and what went wrong on a project.  But traditionally retrospectives (sometimes called "post-mortems") are only held at the end of the project - too late to help.  Agile teams need retrospectives that are iterative and incremental, to accurately find problems and design solutions that help teams improve early on, when improvement yields the most benefit.

Diana Larsen, looking at the history of the Agile movement, reminds us that, "the Agile methods we recognize today are the result of retrospectives.  The originators may not have called them retrospectives, but the methods were developed by reflecting and adapting based on experience of what worked and what didn't.  Just looking back is not enough.  Retrospectives also mean taking action, doing experiments and following through."

If you are interested in team process improvement, this book will help you to:
  • Design and run effective retrospectives
  • Learn how to find and fix problems
  • Find and reinforce team strengths
  • Address people issues as well as technological ones
  • Use tools and recipes proven in the real world

A complaint sometimes heard from teams about retrospectives is that they yield no results.  If your retrospectives seem mechanical and repetitive, the book also offers suggestions to turn this standard Agile practice into an important tool your team will come to appreciate and rely on.  The InfoQ exclusive excerpt: Chapter 10: Make It So begins with:

It would be lovely if we could just say “Make it so” for every change, like Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise. But “Make it so” isn’t enough. Action plans set the stage for results. Incorporating experiments into iteration work plans makes sure they receive attention. And sometimes it’s still not enough.

If you’ve ever tried to change a personal habit (nail biting, for example) you know that it’s virtually impossible unless you have something else to replace the old behavior. It’s easier to add a new behavior than extinguish an old one. The same is true for teams and organizations.
The chapter goes on to look at ways to provide support for change, how to share responsibility for making changes, and what to do when the team identifies the need for challenging large-scale changes, for example, designing a support mechanism that bridges the current state and the goal state, to ease the change.

Related content: read an InfoQ interview with the book's authors.

About the Authors

Esther Derby blends the technical and managerial issues with the people-side issues.  She's been a programmer, systems manager, project manager, internal consultant and currently runs her own consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Derby works with people to increase their effectiveness in understanding and managing complex systems—like software development organizations and software development projects.

Derby is well known for her work helping teams grow to new levels of productivity and is recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation.  Her articles have appeared in Better Software (formerly STQE), Software Development, Cutter IT Journal, and CrossTalk.  She writes regular columns for and, and publishes the quarterly newsletter, insights. Derby is a host  and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference, and is a director of the Scrum Alliance.

Diana Larsen partners with leaders of software development projects, IT/IS departments and other technical groups to strengthen their ability to improve project performance, support and sustain change, and build collaborative workplaces.  Together she and her clients build workplaces that realize business results while developing and dignifying people.  As a specialist in the human side of software development, Larsen serves as a advisor, consultant and facilitator to directors, program and project managers, development teams and others.  She has special expertise in using Appreciative Inquiry approaches, Open Space Technology and other large group processes, as well as in leading teams through Project Chartering and Retrospectives.

Larsen serves on the board of the Agile Alliance and of the Pacific Northwest Software Quality Conference, participates in planning for the XP 200x and Agile 200x conferences, and speaks at several software conferences every year.  She's written articles for Software Development, At Work, Cutter IT Journal, and Cutter's Executive Update and e-Advisor series. Larsen is a founder of the Annual International Retrospective Facilitators Gathering.

Rate this Article