Instead of just asking “What did we do well?” and “What could we do better?”

A reader asked what he could do to inject some life into his iteration retrospectives. He’d been using two questions “What did we do well?” and “What could we do better?” for several iterations, with the general goal of improving performance.

Here’s what I suggested:

Choose a more specific goal, such as “improving team work.” (You could use engineering practices, customer relationships…what ever is most relevant to the team right now.)

Rather than starting with the questions start by setting the stage for the retrospectives. Share the goal. Have the team do a quick, one word check-in.

Then gather some data about goal topic, “teamwork”.

Have the team identify 5-6 behaviors they feel are critical to productive team work. Draw a radar chart and label each arm with one of the behaviors. The center

Ask each person to mark on the chart how well the team is doing on that behavior.

(There’s an example of a radar here. The one pictured shows the team’s average. But you can do it with individual tick marks.)

Use the data from the radar chart to start a discussion. Look at areas where perceptions are different (some people indicated we’re at “10” on this and others indicate “2”). Look at how behaviors affect the team, or how the absence of some behaviors affect the team.

Based on the discussion, ask the team to identify one or two behaviors they want to increase or be more aware of in the next iteration.

Devise a way to track that behavior in the iteration.