I’ve seen teams fall into this pattern many times.

They start a retrospective by looking at the sprint team goals. Did they accomplish them? What could they have done better? What do we need to improve?

But after a while, the retros goes stale. The team continues to hit its sprint goals, but nothing is changing. Comfort sets in. Before they know it, a false sense of security has washed over the team.

Please don’t misunderstand. Looking at changes at the sprint level has its place, but it’s essential to keep the larger system in view.

Without explicitly looking at and questioning the system, having a retrospective on the sprint only offers minimal value. If you don’t actively try to improve the system, your sprint goals will drift to fit within the system.

Let me give you an example. I was working with a team that was proud of their record of accomplishing the stated sprint goals iteration after iteration. Their goal included separate elaboration, design, and development stories. Different people did each type of story within the team.

It was not uncommon for the team to work on feature elaboration and detailed designs months before the developers were slated to start working on the feature.

Unconsciously, the team learned to adjust their sprint goals to fit within the existing system instead of working to improve the system. The system expected this type of separation of work and the team complied.

Without changes and improvements to the system outside of the team, the team will hit a natural plateau. They will get to a point where they can’t make any more changes.

So, what can a team do when this happens? Ignore the sprint!!

What I mean by “ignoring the sprint” is to shift the team focus. Step back from the details of the current sprint and concentrate on the system.

Focus on what systems changes would offer the most significant improvements.

Ask questions like what changes to the system would help us provide value to the customer? If we had a magic wand and could change anything, what would that be?

By shifting the team’s perspective, new life will be breathed into the retrospective. By looking at the process from another direction, a better understanding of the issues can be found.

The list of possible changes and experiments will skyrocket.

The team then can start the hard work of influencing change within the organization. Step by step, piece by piece, the system can be slowly improved and changed.

Improving the system is hard work, but this is work that creates lasting change.

Photo by Jose Ros Photo on Unsplash