The Most Useful Questions For Your Retrospective

What are the most useful questions for your retrospective? As ever, it depends what you would like to have happen.

The questions you ask give you significant influence: influence over the emotional state of the people you ask them of, and thus influence over the answers you receive. I wrote about this in more depth in a previous post.

So, what would you like to have happen?

If your definition of “retrospective” is similar to mine – a review of a piece or short period of work by a group or team, designed to inform the next stage of a project – then you’ll probably want open, honest feedback on what worked well, so you can do more of it.

You’ll also want to know where the problems were, so you can find ways to fix them or avoid them.

You’ll probably also want to know how your team members feel (and how they felt) about the project, not least because happy, engaged workers do better work and aren’t as likely to leave. It’s probably worth noticing this as a separate topic to ensure it doesn’t get forgotten.

What questions are most likely to elicit this information? My friend David Horowitz recently added two good questions to Retrium, his online retrospective tool. (That’s an affiliate link, by the way.)

He suggests you ask: “What went well?” and “What didn’t go well?”

Notice how he starts with the positive. That’s important. People naturally gravitate to problems, but that focus tends to have certain effects on their emotional state: people will often become less open and talkative, and more likely to criticise and blame.

Two More Useful Questions

May I suggest two supplementary questions, that’ll help you get a whole lot more information about any answers you get to the first two? They’re nicknamed the 2 Lazy Jedi Questions (because they add Jedi energy to conversations) but they’re actually very simple.

The two questions are:

  • What kind of X? and
  • Is there anything else about X/that?

Where “X” represents something the person has already said.

For example, you ask your team, “What went well?” and you get the answer, “I really enjoyed the daily stand-up meetings” you might ask “Is there anything else about the stand-up meetings?” to help them to talk about what, specifically, they enjoyed.

There’s obviously a lot more to say about directing attention with questions, so I’ll be back with more next week. Meanwhile if you have questions about questions, please ask them below!

2 thoughts on “The Most Useful Questions For Your Retrospective”

  1. Interesting blog post Judy! The questions you ask in a retrospective can have a great impact on the outcome, so it’s good to think about what you want to ask when defining your next retrospective.

    I wrote the blog post Which Questions do you Ask in Retrospectives (see http://www.benlinders.com/2013/which-questions-do-you-ask-in-retrospectives/) where I talk about the Four Key Questions, Valuable Retrospective Questions, and Asking Why. Asking questions is a technique that is easy to learn, but the effectiveness depends on the questions that you ask to the team.

    Maybe this is helpful?

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