Ideas for Keeping Your Agile Marketing Retrospectives Fresh

Retrospectives hold a special place in all Agile processes. The focus on getting at the heart of what’s working (so you can do more like that) and what’s broken (so you can fix it ASAP) makes retrospective meetings a non-negotiable part of any good Agile team.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Retrospective (or Retro) is a meeting during which an Agile team discusses the Agile process and how to make it better.

Scrum teams will talk about their last sprint, while non-Scrum teams might discuss their latest project or simply the past few weeks or month.

Retrospective Prime Directive:
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.

While the topic is fairly standard, the format of the meeting is highly flexible. It’s up to the team to figure out how best to structure discussion so they can really dig in to their team and its processes.

After a few iterations it can be hard to keep the meeting fresh, but boring retros can very quickly lead to stagnant teams. When you’re looking for a way to spice things up you can try these new Retrospective tactics.

Retrospective Rules

For those who aren’t Retro veterans, here’s a quick overview of the “rules”:

  • Agile team members only. No stakeholders or outside observers are allowed. The Scrum Master is welcome (and often runs the meeting), but the Product Owner and other management are not. Freedom to speak your mind is paramount.
  • Keep it civil and positive. The discussion is about the process, not the people. Obviously sometimes people impact process, and that’s completely fair game to address. Just make sure you don’t let your Retro degenerate into a blame game.
  • Focus on actionability. This is a time for the team to vent a little, but keep your eye on the prize, which is improving the process. Keep yourselves accountable to identifying things your team can fix, and then assigning people to own those solutions.

The Importance of Agile Marketing Retrospectives

Before we jump into some Retro types that have worked particularly well for a few teams we've worked with, I want to clarify why this meeting might be even more important for Agile marketing teams than for Agile development teams.

Even the most cohesive marketing team isn’t always going to be working on the same things.

Sometimes it might be related — some people creating email, others ebooks, and others social media campaigns targeting the same personas — but other times there is little overlap among projects.

This can make it difficult for agile team members to have real empathy for the other folks on our team. Even with daily standup meetings we don’t know everything they’ve had to deal with during the past couple of weeks to get their share of the work done.

Retrospectives make it easier to get insight into the emotional and psychological factors that can drive a team to victory or doom it before the sprint even starts. There’s no burndown chart, no checklists, and no stakeholders.

It’s just the team talking about the team and its process.

Don’t shortchange yourselves. Make time for comprehensive retrospective meetings. They should be at least an hour, and there’s nothing wrong with a two-hour retro. Chocolate can often help.

Agile Marketing Retro Idea #1: What Went Well…

The typical format for a Retrospective is to have the team discuss three simple topics: what should we START doing, what should we STOP doing, and what should we CONTINUE doing.

While elegant in its simplicity, a Retro structured around these three topics tends to sound a lot like the last two (or three or ten) meetings that asked these same questions.

Our first foray into trying out a different topic doesn’t sound like a huge change, but simply adjusting the wording of the questions can force a team to think about their input in new ways.

You might ask yourselves these three questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What went poorly?
  3. What should we change?

It can also help to add space at the end of the meeting for appreciating our team members, which creates an awesome space to shout out to people who really went above and beyond in the last sprint.

The interesting thing about these questions is that they’re a little more neutral. They let us talk more about external factors that were impacting our team instead of just things that WE as a team could or should do/not do.

Agile Marketing Retro Idea #2: Mixing it Up

When you want to break out of the three question format but still want to direct conversation, you can try a grab bag of different question types.

One Retro with a team featured these topics:

  • Describe this past sprint in one word.
  • What’s something that caused problems last sprint?
  • If you could change one thing about the last sprint what would it be?
  • What don’t we know yet?

I wasn’t sure about that last question before the meeting, but it gave our team something really new and interesting to talk about.

But my favorite question was the first.

The huge variety of words that the team members used to describe the sprint was revelatory, especially because there were patterns within groups who worked on similar projects.

Agile Marketing Retro Idea #3: Setting Sail

When you really need to shake things up, tap into your inner artist and draw a scene on a whiteboard or giant sheet of paper. One of our best Retros featured this image:

Each section represents a different part of the team’s experience. Ask your team to spend 5-10 minutes writing down their feedback — good and bad — about each part on sticky notes. They should then put their note up next to the appropriate area.

  • The clouds are something like, “Wind in our sails,” things that helped push us toward our goals.
  • Those little blobs on the boat are supposed to be people, i.e. your team members. Any input about the team goes here.
  • At the bottom of the boat is an anchor. Notes here should be about things that were holding the team back from achieving their goals.
  • The island on the far right is the sprint objective or goals. If there’s any feedback about those — too broad, ill-defined, or really great — team members stick those notes here.
  • Finally there’s the coral (yes, it’s coral). These are unseen assumptions that could sink the team, either in the past sprint or in the future.

After all the sticky notes are up you just have the Scrum Master or meeting leader read the notes and ask the author to talk about them.

Bonus: This method also lets quieter team members get their ideas out front and center in a low-pressure way.

What’s Your Best Retrospective Format?

What type of questions get your team talking? We’d love to hear from your team in the comments so we can all have more candid discussions with our agile marketing teams! Also, have a look at this additional Retrospective Exercise Repository.

Ready for the next stage of your journey to marketing agility?