Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Running a Release Retrospective

We just shipped the first release of a project that I have been working on out to customers and it was decided it would be a good time to run a release retrospective with all of the teams involved.

Format of the session

3 hours in the afternoon with roughly 30 people attending.


Some senior managers came in and just say a few words to kick off the meeting in a positive way. Sometimes retrospectives can turn quite negative so this helped make the point that the release was a success and we are there to look for improvements in the coming versions.

Discussion of outcomes

Discussion of the expected outcomes of the meeting, this was a list of different items with actions we are going to take and owners for those actions. The items were:
  • Recommendations (What we did well)
  • Knowledge (What we learnt)
  • Mysteries (Things that need investigation)
  • WTF's (Things that we can improve on)
Next time I would rename recommendations to something else as they came out as recommended things we can do better rather that things we did well that we recommend we keep doing and pass on.


We tried energizer for this meeting as described in parts of a retrospective. After some reading we decided to try the Candy Love Energizer (whats better to get people talking than chocolate?).

This worked well and got everyone being talkative, would really recommend this energizer (think its a bit more interesting as most people haven't done it before).

Story of the project

This was a brief presentation with some key dates and statistics of the project, to help focus people on what we were going to be discussing the following breakout section.

This was shorter than hoped but it worked well to help frame the period we were talking about. 

Retrospective Prime Directive

"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."

Read out the prime directive and explained that the meeting is supposed to be a positive thing looking at what we can do better and improve on rather than blame.


We broke up in to 4 teams each with flip board paper and pens with each team to focus on a different area. Each team should identify Recommendations, Knowledge, Mysteries and WTF's with possible actions.

Quality & QA

Looking at our quality management & testing


This is essentially the story of a story, from customer to shipped.

Planning & Release

Looking at how the project was planned and released.

Work & Environment

How the teams interact and work together, inside and outside of the team. as well as generally at working within the company & skill sharing.


Each team presents their findings and we discuss as a whole group the proposed actions.

The discussion was very interesting though some of the topics were very developer focused, it was suggested that we should have a developer only meeting first next time to avoid bringing the other team members to boredom.

Actions & Owners

Review the actions and assign owners.

The hardest part of these things always seems the be actually getting something practical out of as many items as possible. To try to help we assigned owners to each item and I will try to chase the owners to make sure progress is made over the coming weeks.

Release Success

Each person gets a piece of paper and writes a 1-10 on it to say how well they thought it went. This provides an anonymous way to gather information on how well everyone who worked on the release believes it has gone.

While this is probably not the best way to judge the release it was interesting to see the information that came in. In future I would suggest maybe using a more simple system (Well, OK, Poor) or something along those lines.


The session went pretty well most of the feedback was very positive. We identified several points and actions that we will be looking at over the period of the next release.

I would highly recommend playing around with the different subjects to suit the number of people you have joining in and areas you want to cover. Hopefully when we do another release retrospective we can try another set and compare the results.



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