Book Review: The Retrospective Handbook
Reflecting with an eye toward improving is an important element of a successful agile project. One of the practices that many teams use is the iteration retrospective. The concept seems simple, but teams struggle to do retrospectives right, as Venkatesh Krishnamurthy and Mukesh Chaudhary point out.
Because retrospectives are so challenging, I was interested in seeing what Patrick Kua had to add to the conversation in his book The Retrospective Handbook: A Guide for Agile Teams.
Kua's book addresses some of the challenges of leading agile retrospectives in less than ideal situations. Among the issues he addresses are how to lead a retrospective when you are part of the team and how to deal with retrospectives with distributed teams. Kua does not answer every question you may have about these situations, but he provides a good framework for understanding the problems and points to other resources for those who want to dive deeper.
The information this book provides will be useful to anyone leading a retrospective, but it is particularly useful to those who are leading retrospectives when they also have a role on the team. The best approach is to have the facilitator of your retrospective not have an active role in the project. This allows the facilitator to focus on ensuring that the meeting runs well and removes any temptation to steer discussion in a particular direction.
In small teams or organizations new to agile, the person in the ScrumMaster role is the person who often leads a retrospective, and Kua provides guidance on how to balance these roles.
The Retrospective Handbook is not the only book you need to run an agile retrospective. Although it provides a good introduction to the purpose, mechanics, and challenges of agile retrospectives, it leaves a number of details to other sources. Kua's book is, however, an excellent companion to Esther Derby and Diana Larsen's book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, which provides detailed information on how to structure a retrospective.
Leaning heavily on the framework that Agile Retrospectives describes, The Retrospective Handbook adds a good discussion of practical issues that facilitators face, offers an extensive list of resources, and is a good place to go for inspiration about how to improve your retrospectives. However, if you are serious about agile retrospectives, it should not be the only book you read on the subject.
Is there a book or other resource that has helped you do a better job facilitating retrospectives?