Posted by Doc
Mar 21 2009

Okay, so my last post about retrospectives brought up a lot of interesting stuff, much of it from comments. In fact, it stimulated more comments than any other post I’ve done.

I thought I’d take some time to revisit the issue of looking backward, looking around, and looking forward.

I’m not going to deal directly with retrospectives, but rather look at the question of how we go forward.

One of my favorite comments comes from Scott Bellware:

…when what we’re actually doing is “interventions” but calling them “retrospectives”, it’s time to call much more into question than retrospectives colloquially allow.

So what I interpret Scott to be saying is this: look around, and as you see something that needs addressing, address it now with all of your skills. If I wait until later, then I have done myself and my team a disservice.  If my interpretation is correct, then I agree.

Earlier, another Scott – Scott Andersen (“The Other Doc”) – said:

So, can looking back ever take you forward?

My gut says that motion backwards will always end up stalling a meeting rather than keeping the flow.

I’m not sure how he got “motion backwards” from “looking back.” What I can’t figure out is how to go forwards without at least (a) knowing where I am now and (b) how to distinguish forwards from backwards. I mean, forwards just means I’m looking towards my front – I could be going in circles, or just marching off a cliff, or effectively going backward by continuing to loop around until I get back to where I was.

Without backwards, there is no forwards.

So my premise is that I have to have consciousness of where I’ve been and where I am to know how to go forward.

Patrick Kua says it quite nicely:

I think there is still value in looking backwards. Part of implementing change requires people to see a problem that needs solving. Without looking backwards, it’s hard to understand what impact the problem has, how people view it, and often, what the root causes were.

More importantly doing this as a group is sometimes an essential part to gain a shared understanding of the problem and consequences. Without this, conversations break down into four different solutions as everyone perceives the problem differently.

The only problem I have with this is the word “problem.” Going forward (whether in a retrospective or otherwise) is not always or solely about problems. If we take “going forward” to mean “evolving, getting better, getting more efficient, or otherwise changing for what we mean by ‘the better'”, and replace Patrick’s “a problem that needs solving” with “a status quo/situation that could be better,” then I agree.

It’s Patrick’s second paragraph that makes the point for me – achieving a shared understanding, a shared pool of meaning – that is essential. And where does that shared understanding come from? Common history, which comes from either looking backward together, or from looking around together over time and having achieved a common understanding of what we see.

Any discussion of looking forward or moving forward, regardless of context, cannot be complete without distinguishing then from now from future.

One Response

  1. Patrick Kua says:

    Good point doc! I think your choice of words, “situation” over “problem” fits into more scenarios more appropriately. I guess that was me being lazy with language! Thanks for the post.

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