Show Notes - Retros are for people


Retrospectives are for people

Aired on A Journeyman’s Travels Podcast on April 07, 2023
These are the notes from which I recorded the show. They’re a little unpolished since the original audience was just me. But I’ve added some of the reference material that I allude to in the podcast and post it here, should anyone want to ‘see how the sausage is made’.

Show Notes


Teams Performance is FROM PEOPLE, and HOW they connect

  • Revisiting previous episode, discussed how Action items are actually Individual behavior changes executed outside the meeting.
  • These individual behaviors take on a gestalt quality as the team interacts in repeated patterns sprint to sprint.
  • Like a complex melody at the symphony, it is the result of many tuned chords, hit at just the right time, in just the right order. But if there is a consistent hiccup in the melody, that mistake, that bug if you will, has a rippling, and magnifying impact on the teams gestalt performance.
  • A little friction between the Dev and the QA can lead to a huge loss of momentum over time.
  • The Team’s performance is in her members, and in how those members interact.
    • Good interactions, trusting, safe, supportive and the team thrives
    • Friction in the interactions robs everyone of momentum

Retros are FOR People

  • so if the retro is supposed to be used by the team to improve their performance, and performance of a team is dependent on her members, and especially on how they interact, it would seem natural that one of the subjects during Retros would be Individuals and Interactions
    • Call out for being first trade off Id’d in Agile Manifesto
  • But recall our Retros must be intentional. And not everyone is comfortable with the so-called touchy-feely stuff. Should we even be talking about that?
  • Does it impact performance? Yes. Is it something we can improve? Yes. Then it should be a discuss-able.
    • The trick is in discussing it well.
    • The team’s dynamics need to be sufficiently positive to allow this conversation to go over well, in a group setting.
    • But as a scrum master, or even an individual team member we should not avoid a topic that impacts the team completely. Friction behaviors will over time rob the team of its energy and drive.
    • So steward your team’s future, and act to kindly call out the discrepancy.
  • Now calling out the discrepancy can be tough. There is a good quote I found recently that captures the idea pretty well, starting from the idea of an intellectual argument. When we argue, we’re usually trying to change someone’s mind, just like you will be when you kindly confront someone about a friction behavior you are seeing.

“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.”

  • Haruki Murakami

    • Now let us be clear, kindness is NOT sugar-coating the message. It is not avoiding saying the topic outright for fear of giving offense. Being clear is kind. Anything else muddies the waters, and make it more difficult to have a conversation. So if you must confront, be clear, what is the trouble, what is not the trouble, and what can the listener do better in the future. AND then Listen to them.

Run PEOPLE Focused Retros

  • Building on the idea, you should occasionally run a ‘people’ focused retro. Focus on how people interact, and their patterns. Look for ways the want to engage but don’t feel like they have permission.
  • It can sometimes feel like you team shouldn’t need to do that, especially if they’ve been together for a while. But remember, even the signers of the Agile Manifesto stated that they were still learning better way to develop software. The Manifesto was just a collection of their notes on what principles had consistently worked.
  • And a long lived team can actually benefit even more from a people focused retro! People fall into patterns, or habits. We touched on this last episode when discussing the need to vary the format of the retro. It’s not bad, it’s just the way our minds optimize our work.
  • By running a retro where people are encouraged to discuss their personal strengths, their weaknesses, the patterns of their interactions, you are giving them a gift.
  • One of the most powerful stories I have of this, was on a format I designed called Strengths, Weaknesses, and Fusions. {Story}
  • I hope hearing that story offers some insight into how you can safely approach a People focused retro, and the kind of results your team might receive on the other end!


  • This concludes first portion of this season: First Principles of Retrospectives
  • Retros must be intentional, improvement doesn’t happen on accident
  • Retros MUST produce change, or else why have the meeting?
  • Retros are FOR the people in them. Humans Write Code, so help the HUMANS improve, NOT just their processes, but HOW we work together, AND WHAT we do.
  • So when you are considering your Retrospectives, consider Retrospecting on your Retros, build your plans from First Principals, and strike the right balance to build deeply effective retrospectives and drive the change and new culture for your team!