image: © Alan Levine (CC 0 Public Domain)

One of the hardest parts of facilitating agile retrospectives (for me at least) is helping the team identify the most urgent problems and define actions that can be done tomorrow. Often, we come up with a rather long list of stuff we could or should do, with items that are vague and not immediately actionable.

In the retrospective, we should make sure:

  • we commit to a single area of improvement and find the root cause;
  • pick a small number of actions to take (in the next sprint) to improve in this area;
  • define success criteria for these actions.

Finding the root cause

A problem and its roots

According to Gonçalves 2015 it is important to find the root cause, because

  • only then we will address the real issue;
  • it will save us time - if we do not fix the root cause, the problem will keep occuring, only in different forms;
  • killing the root will kill a whole tree of problems;
  • it will lead to action items that are not “fluffy”.

This all being said I’m not really sure if there is really a single root cause for every problem. However, if there are more than a single root cause, working on one of those is always better than working on a branch of the tree.

Work on a small number of small actions

We can only do so much; by defining small actions, we get better insight in the cause of changes we accomplish. Furthermore, small actions actually get done.

Tips to get stuff done are:

  • Appoint an ambassador for an action item;
  • Add action items to (the top of) the sprint backlog;
  • Ask about them in the daily (an ambassador could do this too);
  • Have a dedicated Kanban board for action items;
  • Define success criteria for each action and verify if they’re met.


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