Continuous Retrospectives are not a substitute for retrospective meetings

About a year ago, I proposed to our team that we should adopt a continuous approach for our retrospectives. One of the questions that came up was whether this should be a replacement for regular weekly (or once per sprint) retrospectives.

After a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that you probably need both.

I came up with the idea of a continuous retrospective to fix a specific problem with regular retrospectives: halfway through the sprint, you realise that something is a problem, but by the time you get to your end-of-sprint retrospective, you’ve completely forgotten about it.

Another advantage of continuous retrospectives is that, in theory, they can shorten the turnaround time for resolving problems, so points of friction don’t linger throughout the sprint.

However, I’ve found over the past year that continuous retrospectives have one particular flaw: they can easily lose momentum. It’s all too easy to get complacent about continuous improvement, to end up having your retrospective board sitting neglected in a corner with nobody ever adding anything to it, and before you know what’s happened, you’ve gone from sub-optimal retrospectives to no retrospectives at all.

If you’ve bought into the 37 Signals/Basecamp/whatever they’re called this week “meetings are toxic” ethos, the idea of having one less meeting may sound attractive. However, the ceremony and formality involved in regular retrospective meetings gives them an inertia that keeps them going. It forces each team member to be regularly thinking about what is going well and what isn’t. And it provides a forum for the issues to be discussed in more detail rather than coming up with off-the-cuff solutions that may not be properly thought out.

Continuous retrospectives can definitely offer considerable value. But don’t ditch your end-of-sprint (or weekly) retrospectives. Rather than doing one or the other, you’ll most likely get the best value out of doing both.

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