In her 1958 book “The Art of Making Dances” the dancer and choreographer Doris Humphrey offered the advice: “Never leave the ending until the end”. Since first hearing that advice in the late 1970’s I have found it to be appropriate in all creative endeavors I have undertaken. It essentially asks that we have a sense of the whole before filling in the detail. It is a very Agile-compatible concept. If she had been addressing a business audience Ms Humphrey may have recommended that we know why we are doing something before we undertake to do it. In other words, what value are we seeking… what story are we telling?
Traditional software development tended to leave the ending to the end, which is why we often joke about teams being 90% done 90% of the time, and why the shit inevitably hits the fan when we try to integrate all the disparate pieces.
Taking Doris Humphrey’s original insight, we can apply it to a different aspect of software development, an Agile aspect in fact. The retrospective. Reframed the statement might read: never leave the retrospecting until the retrospective.
In my previous post I decried the so-called Prime Directive, claiming it was condescending and superficial, and its use created the wrong kind of environment for real change to occur. The introduction of the Prime Directive seems to assume no work has been done on the journey to the retrospective, that all feedback, criticism, concern, all differences and disputes are bottled up and saved for a single meeting at the end of a sprint. If that is the way a team is taught to work, then I can see the need for such a directive. We could parallel this with a traditional approach to testing, where QA specialists try to test quality into a piece of software after it has been built.
If a team is given the opportunity to reflect each day, is guided towards a collaborative and trusting way of being, learns to confront the tough moments with courage and respect then the quality of interaction and collaboration is woven in to the fabric of the team, not patched on at some later date. With such teams the retrospective requires no directives, admonishments or rules of conduct.
In fact, without the necessity to take the lid off Pandora’s Box every two or three weeks the retrospective becomes something much more interesting and powerful. It becomes a moment of stillness and reflection, a time to breathe out, to say thank you. A time to be, and not do. Such a retrospective results in the team members feeling closer to one another as human beings. It is a deepening of the tribal spirit, the common consciousness, that intangible element inherent in all groups striving for a common purpose.
Seek small adjustments as and when needed, and you won’t have to worry about the big changes. They will take care of themselves. And maybe you will experience a shifting of self, from which place the real organizational change will emerge.