John Wilger has posted his experience leading a release retrospective. It’s a nice description of the flow of the retrospectives, and shows how activities help people get beyond superficial and habitual thinking.
In summing up, John writes:
Before we held this retrospective, I think some of the team members felt that we would not gain much from doing a full-day retrospective this time around. We had made good progress on our action items from the previous retrospective, and the general feeling was that things were going basically well. What could we possibly need to change?
People, please don’t hold retrospectives only when your team feels like there’s a problem that needs to be dealt with. If you hold retrospectives on a regular basis, whether you feel like you “need” to or not, you will uncover issues before the become problems. In our case, we managed to uncover a number of issues during our retrospective that could easily have grown into much larger problems if we didn’t bother to think about them until the effect was obvious.