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24th March 2018

Facilitated retrospectives for the win!


Building a new digital project is hard. When you have a project that pulls lots of people together from across an organisation, it can seem nearly impossible. This tends to happen because half the ‘team’ is actually focused on something else, typically their day job. At Space Indent we know how effective it is to work as one-team, and how it can help your projects to over-deliver.

Most digital projects tend to be a collaboration between IT, marketing, and sometimes a particular business unit. Everyone has their own interest:

  • The business unit wants a tool, something that allows it to automate a task, or streamline a process. This is usually seen a tool that will grow that area of the business through an investment in technology.

  • The marketing team want to make sure the new project represents the brand, and generates leads that can be qualified and sent to sales. The product is often a new channel for marketing to use, and represents a new way to spend on advertising.

  • The technology team are trying to delivery on the nebulous requirements on the other parties while dealing with their own constraints emerging from existing systems, technology, and the tools they have available to build with. This is often seen as the work!

As the project progresses these requirements tend to drift out of balance, and the different parts of the team don’t communicate as clearly as they could.

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Keep control of your feedback

The problem is usually one of perspective. As the teams go their separate ways they lose site of each other’s needs. Marketing don’t feel they are being heard. The business doesn’t know how to use the product. The IT team are trying to firefight the product into life against the existing infrastructure without having to explain the entire company.

It’s not enormously productive. But there is an easy route out of the chaos and everyone has a part to play. Getting everyone back into the room is the first step. The aim is to get all the stakeholders working as one-team. The easiest way to start with with a retrospective.

Retros are generally associated with agile, but it doesn’t really matter if you are running a an agile project or not. The important part of a retro is that everyone can say what is working and what isn’t without it being about blame. Everyone is there to learn how to make the project run more smoothly. 

A facilitator will keep things on track. The facilitator - often from another team or department - is there to lead process, and keep everyone talking about progress. They are not there to offer answers, but guide the room to a solution that works for everyone. At the end you’ll have a list of things everyone agrees to change. Just doing this once or twice will make a dramatic difference to many projects! 

It’s a common mistake of IT teams to hold a retro without the ‘client’ in the room. In this case, holding a retro without marketing or the business is a grave error. The IT process may improve, but there is no change to the environment the project operates within.

Another common issue if that no one from marketing or business see the value. They don’t turn up to the retrospective, and nothing gets done. This usually implies some other things have already been happening. A good example is where the relationship is driven by tickets.

When marketing want a new feature, they are asked to raise a ticket. There is little to no feedback against these tickets, and an issue of trust develops. The technology team always read and review the tickets, but this information doesn’t make it back to the person who raised it. The end result is that they stop raising tickets and revert to email.

The technology team needs this process so they can sensibly manage their workload, but the process simply becomes too opaque for the users. The business unit will usually avoid it entirely, and use boss-to-boss management to ask for things. (“I’ll ask my boss to tell your boss to tell you to do it.”)

A good retro can draw a lot of these problems out quite quickly. A knowledgeable facilitator can help craft actions that can begin to change things. In the case above, it’s a matter of managing the tickets communicate feedback. The information has to be pushed to the person who raised it - email typically - so they know what’s happening. Each item should become a conversation with the participants, even if that conversation is “we cannot change this because…” and “we propose the following workaround…”.

Working on a digital project is hard. But if you don’t work on the process of working on digital projects, it can become impossible. We help customers by facilitating retros all the time. We’ve even held series of retros where after a couple of rounds, no one had anything bad to say!

If you have a digital project that needs a little tune-up, why not drop us a line and we can help getting things moving.