Is safety in the workplace as important as companies say?

No one goes to work to do a bad job, so no one can say that in retros…

If your team of agile developers are using Scrum, Kanban or a bit of both, you’re likely to have regular intervals where the team will come together. The aim of the game is to reflect on what’s been done in the past and what can be done better. This is a vital opportunity for a team to grow and mature.

In a perfect world, safety and trust should be present in teams, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and we regularly hear from tech leaders about their past experience in witnessing a lack of trust and in some cases, an element of judgement during retrospectives.

When people come to retros, they should have the mutual understanding that whatever happens – judgement should be suspended regardless, with the firm foothold that everyone did the best job they could. Norman Kerth found a way to ensure this positive attitude is carried through in retros, defining the retrospective prime directive.

Norm Kerth defines the retrospective prime directive as: “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.”

Kerth believed that retros should encourage free-flow conversations, enabling people to learn from previous experiences. The prime directive looks at the overall learning and tries to work out how we can improve moving forward. Although the prime directive is mainly used for Sprint Retrospectives, there is no reason to limit its use to only those events.

Keep it tame, decrease the blame…

Getting your retrospectives started on the right foot is imperative for any high performing agile team to get the most value out of their retros and focus on the larger issues, not just the issues between each other. The end goal is to create a safe space where people feel like they can contribute and not get blamed.

Kerth considers that people should always feel comfortable and have trust in one another when sharing.

A bad retro is one filled with blame and judgement, but they should be free of gripes and a decrease in blame. Complaining will reduce the opportunity for leaning. Norm Keth’s prime directive in retros to keep the conversations flowing at all times, not just when a problem arrives. Why not put out the fire before the smoke gets worse?

What is your experience in using retrospective prime directive, and what other tools have you used to accommodate team building?