Agile Insights Blog

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Why are retrospectives necessary for empirical learning?

May 24, 2021 2:41:02 PM

Empirical learning - the practice of developing knowledge from direct investigation and experience – is one way the Agile software development framework enables small teams to deliver value quickly.  If teams do not take the time to truly step back and honestly inspect & adapt their work together with transparency, they could greatly hinder this learning.

When a team inspects their work or performance together it helps them become more objective, seeing beyond their own presumptions and lets them openly and transparently share information and collaborate on ideas of how to improve their processes, products or people. In being transparent, the team will not only discover ideas and concepts that would not have been thought of individually, but they will further establish their trust.  The regular thought exercise of truthfully and openly assessing the work a team delivers (as well as their way of working) within a small timebox fosters an environment where teams feel more comfortable discussing and challenging each other about more complex problems and the best way to achieve their goals. When the team regularly inspects their work within the retrospective, the issues identified can actually be dealt with (and quickly) rather than accepted as “just part of the job” because they are discussed truthfully with enough frequency to inspire change.

While this is easier on smaller adaptations such as knocking out some technical debt or experimenting with a small process change, it is much more difficult when the adaption must take place at the personal or organizational levels. Thus, the team must use its direct investigation and experience to experiment with inspired ways to continuously improve – and ensure to continue to honestly inspect their results.

This adaption is what enables development teams to innovate, identify how to address their most pressing issues quickly and respond to change all while fostering an environment of team honesty, transparency and accountability. The Agile framework allows for adjustment and experimentation but requires the thoughtfulness of these honest retrospectives to learn empirically and evaluate the success of our experiments.

This ability for a team to regularly adapt their own process and way of working autonomously can be therapeutic and liberating. Rather than being told what to do teams work together to share the responsibility of creating their own way of working. That ownership helps the team foster outstanding performance and innovation, allowing them to continuously inspect, experiment, learn and adapt. Every retrospective holds a crucial opportunity for meaningful change and empirical learning – challenge teams to be honest, thoughtful, and creative while inspecting and the adaptions made will add exponential value.

Robert Clawson
Written by Robert Clawson

Agile Coach & Scrum Master at Vennli
Agile enthusiast with strong QA expertise. Has served in the role of Agile coach, product owner, scrum master, QA, Test and BA for both clients and third parties.

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