INSIGHTS How we do retrospectives at ABOUT YOU (Part 1)



4 min read

Agility as the ability to respond to change in a fast way and adapt processes is at the core of our companies value system. ABOUT YOU is a tech company at heart driven by the passion to develop the best products. Our tech teams constantly need to adapt to new technologies, social changes or changing customer needs. We always strive to find solutions that are smart and straightforward. We focus on solutions instead of problems. To us, the glass is always half full. We communicate honestly and clearly, no politics or hidden agendas. This is why the retrospective as a method to reflect, inspect and improve is so very valuable to us.

Our goals are simple:

  1. Continuous improvements of team processes and teamwork — owned by the team.
  2. Learn from mistakes and generate actions to realize learnings.
  3. Deliver more value to the customer and business
  4. Open communication which results in more trust to boost teamwork.

We are a very diverse company and you can find all kinds of experts at ABOUT YOU. The tech departments at ABOUT YOU are clustered in what we call Units by general product or service (e.g. Unit Checkout includes all Checkout functions) steered by both a Tech Lead and a Product Lead. Units are then divided into smaller teams called Circles, which work on more specialized topics (e.g. Circle Payment is working only on payment topics). The Circles have two lead positions, a Lead Developer on the technical and the Circle Manager on the product side. We don’t have the role of a “pure” Agile Coach or Scrum Master in our company, but a committed team of lean process and project managers, a Circle called Lean Process Development. Each Tech Circle has its assigned Lean Process Manager working with them. We help the tech teams to reflect, discover new ways to work on their processes, build the team and by that guide them to improve continuously.

→ To get a better idea of how ABOUT YOUs tech teams are set up in general, go watch this short video about our organizational model MOVE.

Besides doing retrospectives for the “usual” development teams, we also use retrospectives during our onboarding process of new leads in a team. Additionally to that, we are using this format to improve our cross circle collaboration. A tech Circle normally has a Lead Developer and a Circle Manager. When a new lead joins, this way they are able to inspect and reflect on how responsibilities are newly distributed and handled in the group of Circle and Unit leads. At About You, even some non-tech teams like to do retrospectives to improve and reflect on certain projects or achievements.

Since we are still quite a young company, we are actually able to put ideas into practice and introduce processes — then scrap them and put new ones in place! Because what really matters is the end result!

What’s important to us is to always have each team's individual requirements in mind when working with them. Every team has its own challenges and thus very different preconditions. Topics and requirements vary but we always try to find a fitting approach. This means each team needs to have an individual process as no size fits all. Some teams work with Kanban, some use Scrum, some even have a “mix and match” solution. In this article, we’d like to walk you through some of our collected retrospective “best practices”, the exercises we have found to work well with our teams in the past and a few hints in which situations they might be right for.

Respect the timebox

Especially when it comes to meetings of all sorts, we strive to keep it short, clear and productive — the retrospective is no exception here. We discovered that 90 minutes every 2 to 6 weeks is plenty for most of our teams. Some smaller teams with 3–7 people only need 60 minutes, of course, it depends on the team size and sprint/iteration length — but 90 minutes is where we aim at max.

(an example agenda for a retrospective with a larger group)

We cut down to the phases, that we deem to be the most important ones of the more “classic” retrospective:

Normally we first do a starter activity to set the stage, this is followed by going through former action items or action points the team worked on. Then to the main act — gathering new data and discussing new action points and finally, if there is time left, we like to do a closing activity to end the retrospective.

“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.”

— The Prime Directive, Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

We respect one another and value our differences. To keep improving us and our teams, we reflect upon our actions critically and remain modest. We share feedback objectively and accept it in the same way, this is crucial for us and shows in a respectful way, that we value our differences and our support for each other. And never forget about the “Vegas Rule”: “What happens in the retrospective stays in the retrospective”.

Next, we’ll get into the details and goals of some of the exercises that work great in retrospectives at ABOUT YOU.

In the meantime, I’m curious how your team reflects on their work? Tell us in the comments!