2017 Scrum Retrospective Using Open the Box Activity

Welcome back for part 2 of my year-end review and retrospective. While the new year might seem to be an arbitrary time to take stock and plan for the future, it is still a time that encourages us to check in with ourselves and (re)assess and (re)commit to goals we care about. I actually do this work three times a year, more in the rhythm of the academic year than calendar year. So while I might be setting big intentions for a calendar year, I know I’ll be checking back in on specific priorities and commitments in a few months at another natural reflection point in time.

In the first part of this post, I did more of a Scrum review, which looks at the products created in 2017. In this post, I’m sharing my retrospective, which is an assessment of the process I used, consciously or not, to keep true to my priorities and goals in 2017.

This year, I’ve become much more committed to understanding my process and the mindsets that led to my successes and challenges, most likely from spending the year thinking about, teaching, and researching the Scrum and design thinking processes. I’m also at the point in my career that I’m not as worried about my “productivity” in the traditional sense because I’m not worried about tenure or promotion; instead, I’m more interested in shaking up my career trajectory, trying new things, taking some risks, and generally playing bigger to see what I’m capable of – I’m more interested in vitality than productivity (which is definitely going to be my personal theme in 2018).

When a Scrum team holds a retrospective meeting at the end of a sprint, it’s an opportunity to inspect and adapt their process – how well are they supporting each other in how they achieve their goals, and what can they do better next time? This is one of the things I love about Agile and Scrum – the practices are designed not just to create conditions for continuous, regular, incremental progress on product goals, but also conditions that support the personal and professional development of every member of the team.

There are many ways to do a retrospective, ranging from the straight-forward to silly games (see this website and this website for many options to choose from). This time around, I decided to use the Open the Box format for my personal retro. You start by imagining that all the elements of your process reside in a cardboard box. Your task is to decide what you should remove from the box, recycle, and put in the box. I did this with art paper and sticky notes to have some fun and make the retro tangible (something I can save and display for the semester). I set a timer for five minutes, and here’s what I came up with:

So this activity tells me a few things – that I want to tame my inner control freak to be a better colleagues and collaborator and that I want to find more joy in my work by more intentionally choosing what to work on and cultivating/sharing my enthusiasm for my work in different ways. Based on these findings, I plan to take the following steps during the first third of 2018:

  1. Whenever I feel my inner control freak taking over, ask myself what is causing the desire to control whatever is happening, what would happen if I didn’t take control, and how I might share control with trusted colleagues instead.
  2. Regularly express my gratitude to my colleagues by asking for and offering help/support.
  3. Share my interests in my projects/research/activities through different types of regular writing – research articles, essays, blog posts, and tweets, and connect to people with similar interests.
  4. Keep my Scrum board prioritized and updated weekly – if something stays on the board for more than 3 weeks and doesn’t move, revisit if the project is worth doing and, if so, determine how and when to get it unstuck.

Completing this retrospective has given me a realistic assessment of how I’ve been working this year and what I can actively do to improve not only my productivity, but also my relationships with colleagues, my enthusiasm for my work, and my own vitality.

Do you take stock of how you are approaching your work? What methods do you use? How might you separate out a review of the work accomplished from the way you accomplished that work? Why might that be valuable for you?


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