Continuous Retrospectives

Linda Rising

Recorded at GOTO 2016


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welcome to the track on improving your
teams I'm so happy that you're here
today I'd like to introduce our next
speaker who is Linda rising
I've known Linda all my life she's a
little unusual and of course she's
incredibly old but every now and then
she says something interesting so we
will hope that this is one of those
occasions
please welcome Linda rising thank you so
much we're going to talk about
retrospectives and my experiments with
continuous retrospectives so let's see
if this is really gonna work for me yeah
there we go so I have started only
focusing on things I really care about
and as the introducer said and is pretty
obvious
I'm incredibly old and I know I won't be
able to do this much longer
takes a tremendous amount of energy to
halt my aging body across the water and
stand up in front of all you
enthusiastic young people and try to
make sense so one of the things I'm
doing is giving away my slides so I know
that you're gonna have access to the
slides yes but I will email you the
PowerPoint because if the idea of
continuous retrospectives is something
that's interesting to you and maybe
you'd like to share this with your team
but they weren't either in this session
or didn't come to the conference then
one thing you can do is take the slides
adapt them because they're yours now and
give this presentation in your workplace
with the idea of trying some experiments
first slide is my email address Linda at
Linda rising org and in fact it's not
only true for this presentation but for
anything if you see me on YouTube or
have heard one of the other
presentations that I give I'll send you
the PowerPoint for that as well and then
you can talk about bonobos or mindsets
or any one of the other topics that
interest me if you've noticed in the
bookstore I hope they've got a big stack
of my new book which is more fearless
change this is a book that came out last
year and it's after a 10-year writing
adventure with my co-author Mary Lynn
Mane's we work in 10-year cycles and it
took us ten years to write fearless
change another ten to write more
fearless change there are some new
patterns in there and then Deb Bruce who
created the fearless journey game has
come out with cards for all of the
patterns in the new book so the book
store doesn't have those but you can buy
them online so shameless plug for more
fearless change I'm going to take you
through a little bit of my own personal
history with retrospectives which
started in 1998 I was working for a
medium-sized telecom company and we knew
that we had to experiment with some new
projects and so we started on an
adventure we had a little project that
ran for three years when it started it
had six pretty good people on it and
over that three years grew to a hundred
and twenty now I learned about something
called the sunk cost effect by watching
that project because every six months
there would be a meeting of staff and we
would look at the progress for that
particular project and we would say well
they're not doing so well maybe we
should think about canceling this
project and someone at the table would
say oh no we can't cancel this project
six months later
well maybe we should think about
cancelling this project well no we can't
how many of you ever seen that the sunk
cost effect that once you have any
sizable investment in an adventure
you're reluctant to cut your losses and
say maybe we should think about doing
something else instead so by the time
they finally decided to cancel that
project after it had run for three years
and had cost the company ten million
dollars and noticed this is 1998 so a
million dollars was worth a lot of money
produced nothing so after the
cancellation my boss came to me and he
said Linda I know you're interested in
patterns couldn't you look at what
happened here and and couldn't you see
are there patterns for what went on
couldn't we learn from our experience
experience as patterns so we wouldn't do
that again I said well I I don't know of
any patterns for this kind of adventure
but I will look around and I have a good
friend who's working on something
interesting I will contact him and I'll
bet he would help me
his name was norm curse anybody ever
heard of norm curse okay norm curse was
working on an interesting book he was
calling it project retrospectives it
wasn't finished yet in 1998 but he was a
patterns guy and I knew that he was a
fan of learning and documenting things
and patterns so I called up norm and I
said norm you got to help me out I don't
know what I'm doing here and would you
guide me through some of these I know
you're doing exercises I know you're
working with teams to law
learn from experience well how do you do
that exactly and when I told my boss
guide me through a process that might
help us learn and I said he's calling it
a retrospective a project retrospective
and that's what my boss said is that a
post-mortem because we did that we did
post mortems have you heard that word
before do you like it I don't I
personally don't like it I know we were
largely Danish speaking here but this is
Latin do you know what post mortem means
yeah what does it mean translate in in
in English not in Danish but what what's
it mean yes post after mortem death
after death and the word comes from a
practice in medicine where we look at
someone who has died and we want to
determine what it was that caused the
death and of course no matter what we
learn it's really not gonna help the guy
who's lying on the slab it's too late
it's too late and that was one of the
problems with post-mortems is that it
really didn't add any benefit for the
person who was receiving that exercise
and that transferred then into software
teams the teams that had already died
well it was too late and most of the
time that post mortem well it was filed
away somewhere either on real paper or
digitally and no one ever looked at it
again so when my boss said
are you talking about a post-mortem I
said no I don't think so I think I think
this is different this is about real
learning it's about taking the time to
really learn something not just to say
what went wrong and who's to blame and
whose decision led us in this bad
direction what caused the death no this
is about standing back and a
retrospective is about thinking
retrospect stop and think and learn from
the experience without worrying about
whose fault it was no laying a blame at
the feet of a high-level decision maker
or of a team of people or no no this was
this was different
norm said it's a chance for us to get
together and learn how to improve it's
about learning not fault-finding
and he introduced something that often
gets lost because I'll bet everybody in
the room has done a retrospective
haven't you yeah you're calling that
that and how many of you do it regularly
whatever that means regularly sure and
how many of you know what the prime
directive is not so many because it is
about learning and the only way that can
happen is that if we realize what norm
did because I didn't at first I read
this and I I said norm what are you
talking about the prime directive I have
to go in to this meeting and I have to
say to myself I believe I believe that
everybody that was working on this
project was doing the best job
he or she could given of course what
they knew at that time what they faced
their skills and abilities of course all
of those things have changed since we
learned a lot in doing this project but
at the time they were all doing their
best now so many people struggle with
that and in fact if you google on Prime
Directive Linda rising there are all
sorts of discussions that I have led one
for info queue where people weighed in
on how impossible how impossible this is
and the argument goes something like
well I know I don't even do the best I
can so how can I say that other people
on the team we're doing the best they
could they were being very very rational
and what norm realized is if a team
subscribes to this belief and if they
begin each retrospective by saying yes
for the duration of the retrospective I
will try to believe that everyone on the
team was doing the best job and so forth
that if a team does that it's like a
little ritual law and then over time it
changes the way your brain thinks about
yourself and about your team members and
about how they work and you come to be a
team that begins to really and truly
believe that that's what we do in
religion we say that affirmation of
faith sometimes we say I'm not sure I
really believe this but I always say it
anyway and it's in the saying of it
we've heard some great talks today about
science but most of the time our talks
are about religion
they're about belief we don't have any
proof that agile is any better than
anything else but we believe in it I
don't believe her aren't you sure sure
yeah well then of course we always have
to talk about the agile manifesto the
part that is important for us is this
little principle that says at regular
intervals so now instead of thinking
about a project retrospective that's
something that you do at the end of the
project projects sometimes run for years
so that means at the end of a two-year
project you're just going to do one
not do another one for another two years
or three years but now the manifesto
said no you need to get together more
often than that these intervals are
shorter not sure it's not specified
exactly but it's shorter and notice the
wording here it says the team reflects
on how to become more effective and then
tunes
how many of you are musicians or know
anything about tuning an instrument okay
good so this will be an appropriate
metaphor when you tune an instrument you
have to do it every time you play it you
can't just say well I'm gonna let it sit
in the corner and then every two years
I'll tune it up no every violin player
every guitar player every and I was a
harpsichord player every harpsichord
player has to tune that instrument every
time they play it that's a lot in fact I
finally gave up harpsichord I couldn't
stand at forty keys and you got it too
by that time I didn't have any time to
practice it was all over with better to
get an electronic keyboard and then you
technology is wonderful sometimes when
it works so tuning small adjustment in
fact if your guitar or your hearts
accord or your violin is drastically out
of tune
you know that you can't actually get it
up to pitch because if you adjust too
much you're gonna put a lot of stress on
the instrument a stress on the strings
you can't do it so you have to do it
often and those adjustments have to be
small so now we're talking about
something very different retrospectives
as we do them in agile development are
not about project and the project
retrospectives they're about getting
together every two weeks or every three
weeks and we're gonna do little things
some little tiny things to tune and
adjust and there have been lots of books
now about agile retrospectives my
favorite is the first books that was
written by my friends Esther Derby and
Diana Larson I recommend it I don't know
whether it's in the bookstore or not but
it should have a look at it and they
started talking about continually and by
that they meant every two weeks or every
three weeks with the idea that yeah we
were going to do some of the things you
did in a project retrospective but not
everything was appropriate since we were
going to do them more often and the
changes they had to be smaller about
this time I began to be interested in
cognitive neuroscience after all if we
don't do any science it behooves us to
at least look at those areas that are so
that we could transfer some of that
learning to what we do and we could take
advantage of the fact that there is real
science going on in other parts of the
world that might help us do a better job
so in particular this little area of
your brain that sits over your right ear
it's called the right time
proprietor Junction or Artie PJ and it's
an area that doesn't develop until
you're almost five or six and it has to
do with your ability to innovate your
creativity and is also devoted to one
other special capability that you have
that many mammals do not which is you
can think about what others are thinking
it's also called theory of mind and that
fits perfectly with what goes in a
retrospective where we look at what
everyone else is thinking what do you
think about what happened on this
project either over the last two weeks
or the last two years we are thinking
about what others are thinking so we're
exercising the part of our brain that is
involved in insight and creativity and
if we do that often instead of staring
at our phones we'll be more innovative
and more creative so there's a big plus
for retrospectives if you want to know
more about that I recommend this TED
talk by Rebecca Saxe she's a
neuroscientist who studies that little
tiny piece of your brain in more
fearless change we built on that and
some other cognitive neuroscience in the
pattern that's called concrete action
plan because in a retrospective we often
come up with an action plan what are we
gonna do as a result of everything that
we've learned and what the research
shows is that just thinking about good
things or what we are going to do in a
positive light is not effective the
neuroscience says you have to balance
the consideration of any action you're
going to take by looking at the negative
sides and in fact if you do that in a
sort of well on the one hand and on the
other hand
approach which reminds me of patterns
that is the best way forward so examine
every one of your concrete action plans
by saying well here would be the benefit
but on the other hand and address all of
those negative consequences and
side-effects because they are going to
be there and that will make your plan
stronger and more realistic so there's a
lot of evidence from cognitive
neuroscience that says the way we run
our businesses the way we run our
conferences is not good so here we are
in a in a room with no natural light
when we know the sun is shining here we
are in a room where you're sitting and
what have you been doing for the last
two days you have been sitting have you
not I walk and I stand and I move around
and I look around to see if there are
others so there I know there are a few
of you who are standing and walking but
most of you are sitting and what do you
do all day you sit and what are you
doing you're retrospectives come on
you're sitting you're sitting so what
the research shows is that is absolutely
let's see we could think of maybe some
good things that would come out of that
well we sit too much so the research
shows we need to move we need to spend
more time walking around so we need to
move we also need to take a break this
conference has done a pretty good job of
that would you agree
you have nice breaks in between each of
the sessions you don't feel like you're
running that you have a minute or two
minutes to get to the next session would
you agree the brakes are good so that's
that's not too bad how many of you got a
lot of sleep last night
Oh some of you did well actually let's
take a poll on average not last I was
thinking last night was the party but on
average on average how many of you get
that's what Einstein got 9 hours on
average is that E are you sure don't you
know she's she's not she's hesitant
she's okay well are so eight Hey all
right very good
seven okay seven is the global average
and it is decreasing so most of us have
the idea that well if we didn't have to
sleep we'd have so much more time and
what the research shows is that if you
don't sleep well actually if you don't
sleep at all you will die so that solves
that problem but if you don't sleep
enough you don't learn
that's when learning consolidation
happens so not sleeping enough means
that you're not at your best for a
retrospective or anything else that's
why a lot of companies now are having
nap rooms
how many anybody in the room now all
right very good nap rooms excellent okay
we've had plenty to eat wouldn't you
agree
and the food has been wonderful okay
that's that's a good thing and well
yesterday was rainy today was absolutely
beautiful how many of you got outside
stepped outside okay and not just the
smokers others to get outside every day
is important it's important for your
health because we don't have any natural
light coming in here and that's for a
reason of course and you could
rationalize that way but it's not good
for your health and it's certainly not
good for your ability to innovate or for
anything that might come out of a
retrospective
and there have I haven't noticed any
plants or animals or babies have you
know so we're much better I mean when we
do have a speaker this afternoon who
likes cats so I think we're gonna have
some cats but not real ones so no well
we should have some real cats or real
dogs or Birds or so what we do much
better because the problem is this is
what we do all day we sit sometimes we
don't take a break and go outside so no
natural light I once worked on a big
project to produce an airplane I was
really exciting it was the triple 7 but
no matter what time I went in in the
morning usually about 6 a.m.
my boss looked at his watch he didn't
say anything he just looked at his watch
and the message was you're just coming
in now 6 a.m. the implication was well
he's already been here probably for
hours and hours I'm just walking in at 6
a.m. and when I left usually at midnight
he looked at his watch you're leaving
now
you've only been here since 6:00 a.m.
you're leaving now at midnight so when I
went to work in the morning there was no
Sun and when I left no Sun do you think
that's a good thing do you think that
makes me more productive so now there is
research there's real scientific
you're gonna be sick which I was I mean
it was exciting working on an airplane
but so no natural light we have a
certain amount of time usually for a
retrospective and it's usually not very
long so we have to come up with
innovative ideas come on think fast
let's
this done we got to get out of here we
got deadlines to meet everything has to
be done in a very short timeframe we
don't work well that way either and of
course we can't remember even over a
short iteration two weeks can't remember
what happened because we were thinking
about other things and now suddenly we
have to become introspective we have to
reflect and think about what we were
doing and our focus is always on we
gotta do something we gotta have some
action items and not so much on the
learning so I let a workshop where we
examine all of the benefits that
cognitive neuroscience is telling us
that would help us work better that
would help us think better that would
help us be more innovative and everyone
came up with lots of suggestions for how
we could make retrospectives better how
having naps or having more exposure to
nature or let's bring in some more color
or let's have some snacks let's have
something to eat or drink and came up
with lots of great ideas and so I began
to sort of just like we've got sticky
notes posted on a flip chart I started
adding those on to retrospectives taking
what we had been doing and and sticking
these new ideas on to retrospectives
with the idea of making them better and
then in 2013 I was giving a talk at flow
con and the person who invited me there
was jazz humble and we started talking
about continuous stuff everything is
continuous continuous delivery
testing and for some reason my brain
said well wouldn't we want to have
I mean I mean if everything else is
continuous why couldn't we do that and
and if we did well what would it look
like I mean we can't constantly say oh I
got to think about something that I'm
trying to learn what I'm doing from what
I'm doing as I'm doing it I'm I mean how
would we make all that work and somehow
and listening to a talk he was giving at
that conference I thought I have got
this backwards I'm trying to take what
we have been doing and I'm trying to
force it into a new model by saying well
let's just take this old idea and let's
just add some babies and some food and
some naps and it'll be better when
instead I should be saying what would be
the best way to reflect constantly and
let that grow into what continuous
retrospectives are all about and I
thought I'm not sure but I sure know
that other people might have ideas about
it and so let's begin to experiment so
the first team I worked with said ok
here's what we're gonna do we're gonna
run a regular timeline how many of you
do a timeline in your retrospective now
ok usually it's done after so either at
a project retrospective is after the
project at an iteration retrospective is
after the iteration where you build a
timeline and the timeline is a piece of
either a whiteboard or a series of flip
charts and on it are recorded what
happened at particular moments
throughout that project or iteration and
I like to do it with colors so you wind
up with something like that it's a
series of sticky note index cards
whatever you want to use and on it is a
description of what happened and then we
line them up
in a timeline so what we've got is kind
of the story of what went on either in
the project or in the iteration so for
my first experiment the team said okay
that we're gonna use that exercise only
we're gonna build the timeline in
real-time so we're not going to wait
until the end of the iteration at the
beginning of the iteration we're gonna
and as things happen we're gonna go to
the timeline we're gonna put our sticky
note or that index card and it's going
to say this is what is happening now so
I don't have to worry about remembering
it because I capture that in the moment
hence real-time and then we're gonna add
something else to the timeline and since
that original experiment lots of other
teams have done this many different ways
this first team said we're going to draw
a line under the ordinary timeline and
down here we're gonna put ideas for
experiments in real time so this event
just happened I'm gonna put it on the
timeline and when I post that I suddenly
realize I've got an idea for an
experiment that we could even start
doing now and I'm gonna write another
little sticky note or index Cardon is
going to be right under that and I'm
gonna say because of that I started this
idea and I'm gonna start my small
experiment now I'm not going to wait
until the end of the iteration I'm not
going to wait to post to the timeline
I'm not going to wait for any actions
things
so that means that instead of waiting
even a short time even two weeks waiting
to say all right now let's reflect on
what happened now let's think about
concrete action items even if we try to
do that in a neurological a satisfying
way instead of waiting we're gonna do it
as we think about it and so that means
we're thinking about it all the time now
that means we're thinking about it all
the time
unconsciously as well as consciously so
I don't know if you've ever seen this
diagram before but it's a picture of
your brain it's really a metaphor it's
really a fake picture of an iceberg and
the story used to be something like what
do you see the top of the iceberg there
that's kind of like your conscious mind
and that big giant piece that's the
unconscious the unconscious mind is so
overwhelming that and is so underused
well now the metaphor has shifted a
little bit I don't know if you can see
it but at the very top of that peak
there's a little snowball
that's your conscious and the rest all
of the rest is your unconscious mind so
your conscious mind is really you didn't
think you were gonna get into this
really weird stuff when you came in here
did you and now you're wondering gee I
could have been out in the sunshine I
snowballs hardly there that's your
conscious mind and in fact there are
some neuroscientists that wonder why we
have it it's so ineffective it mostly
just gets in their way how many of you
have read the reference here dan Daniel
Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow Wow
okay then it's not the same guy who
slept 10 hours we're gonna say boy
there's let's let's really hire that so
in thinking Fast and Slow Kahneman gives
those air
his name's he said I'm going to call
your unconscious system 1 and what we
know about system 1 is that it's very
fast it never sleeps
it works 24/7 it's very intuitive and it
never forgets anything it knows every
book you've ever read every lecture
you've ever heard it has an enormous
amount of information and most of the
time we ignore it because we are so
focused on we are so wedded to that
conscious that little snowball what
condiment calls system to the rational
mind that is very slow cannot multitask
and forgets everything so when I say
that people are thinking about ideas for
experiments that are considering what
happened and what can be learned from
that most of that should be offloaded to
the unconscious and as we go to the
timeline and we post something then the
unconscious will say ah I've got an idea
for you why don't you try a small
experiment and out will come the idea
for that little tiny experiment you
won't have to consciously agitate that
very small snowball of a brain that you
think is the major part of what thinking
is all about hand it over to the big
work house that can work on that 24/7
someone asked in an earlier presentation
about a bias it's probably our worst we
have a lot of biases and they all reside
in system one that's why we're so quick
we've got a whole raft of biases that
help us with our decisions the
confirmation bias is the worst
the confirmation bias says essentially
that you since you were born have been
working on a little set of filters that
you carry around with you all the time
and that set of filters makes sure that
you don't hear that you don't see that
doesn't fit with what you have already
learned now we're always working on
those filters yours are unique to you
mine is unique to me but one thing we
know for sure is that if we don't want
to believe that if we don't want to hear
it
we will not now I don't know if you're
aware that in the u.s. currently we're
in the middle of a big political
upheaval anybody been noticing yeah we
so I can really tell I can see the
confirmation bias at work in myself no
matter how hard I try I cannot watch any
kind of debate I cannot listen to any
anything that one of those candidates is
saying do you know what I mean I just
can't hear it I can't be open to the
possibility that there might be us the
smallest shred of intelligence residing
in that person's head I just can't do it
so I know I have already made up my mind
about that particular individual and I
can't get past that I can feel that in
myself so we all have that and it gets
in our way so one of the offerings for
some kind of continuous retrospective is
that when you put something up
immediately then lots of other people
will see it in fact they may even at the
timeline they may be posting their own
thoughts and ideas and events so that
you're continuing comparing notes
and looking at others points of view and
in fact that is the only way around the
confirmation bias is to force yourself
to be around people who don't agree with
you I don't know how many of you signed
up for the decision class that's going
to be on Thursday but we will talk about
this bias there that is your worst enemy
when it comes to making decisions
because you can't get past it you can
only do it if someone will help you and
they will can only help you by saying
well I'm not sure I see it that way
here's how I see it and that is your
only hope we're getting past all those
filters and things we have built up over
our lifetimes
Charles Darwin knew that he had this and
he said as soon as I run across
something that doesn't agree with my
previous research I have to write it
down immediately because if I don't I
know I will begin to work around it I
will begin to some kind of seek out
evidence that will show that it's not
true and so the real-time timeline
enables you to do the same thing Darwin
had his own real-time timeline as he
thought of it he wrote it down as the
team is thinking about it they will
write it down that allows other people
to see it other people to exchange ideas
about it so the benefits for the teams
now there have been six or eight that
have tried this is that you're thinking
about it 24/7 and then you go away you
take a break maybe you go away and don't
come back until the next day so that
means you've had a chance to sleep on it
even better while you're doing it you're
walking in fact the teams I know now
it's kind of go out of their way to walk
past the timeline frequently just walk
there
what new ideas for experiments it's the
gathering place they had their stand-ups
there they have little short meetings
organization there's also an interesting
psychological effect called the cigar
neck effect that says once you've
written something down you can sort of
say I've taken care of that and I can
move on to think about more things so
positive benefit always in documenting
anything we had a great talk on
documentation this is a long quote which
I will since you're gonna ask me for the
slides anyway you can read it we should
be looking to the military the military
has been agile long before software even
knew how to spell it and this is a quote
from the Marines who say we never think
about big change anymore we're always
looking for ways to come up with new
ideas to make small change that's the
best way for anything that's sustainable
and then the goal would be could you
include your values what you think is
important what we know is that when you
start talking about values teams somehow
can collaborate more effectively we may
not agree on everything but our values
will draw us together because at the
core we do care about a set of small
things and that's what will drive us
forward let me close with this
experiment that was done with a whip Pro
team they were going through some
training and they were gonna have a test
on their training so they had a little
experiment with one group they said at
the end of every day we want you to take
15 minutes and just write down your
reflections on what happened that day
and the other group was just instructed
to keep on working for that 15 minutes
well 15 minutes that's nothing right
they didn't give them any more
information during those 15 minutes just
one team took a little time every day to
think what happened today
what they thought about what happened
that day and what they noticed when they
gave them their final exams is that the
group that took time to just write a
little bit every day had better test
scores increased by twenty two point
eight percent over the control group
that just continued working for another
fifteen minutes so this is is evidence
and there's a whole host of evidence for
reflection and there's a whole host of
evidence for reflection in an ongoing
fashion that now as we move to
continuous delivery testing integration
that we should move to continuous
reflection so we can have continuous
learning and of course we need them all
you need to do project retrospective
that's where the strategic lessons come
out and those small iteration
retrospectives well yeah of course
those are tactical decisions and then
the real-time continuous reflection yes
that's we're gonna get great ideas for
experiments so you need them all and I'm
hoping that you will go try something
and that you will let me know what you
did and how successful it was and if you
want to send me some pictures I haven't
found anybody who was willing to share
exactly what their real-time timeline
looked like yet but maybe you will do
that for me and then you can show me
what it looks like for you and then I
can share it with others so will you try
it we try a little experiment here are
some patterns from fearless change if
you need those and remember you'll have
the PowerPoint you can talk to your
team's about it so I hope it wasn't too
weird you know with the iceberg stuff
and all that unconscious you're okay
with that
yeah okay good so thanks for being here
I appreciate it I know you stayed in
here with no natural night and
but now we're gonna have a little break
and you can have some food go outside go
outside now please thank you