As part of my team's workflow, every two weeks we take some time to have a retrospective session (we are currently using Scrum). Although the format can vary, we normally keep things pretty simple and talk through what went well and what could have been improved during the sprint, and then we come up with a few action items to work on the next one. I have helped facilitate many of these retros and one thing that I started to notice fairly regularly was how easy it was to quickly jump into where teams wanted to improve and only briefly touch upon (or completely skip) what had been working well. With the focus that agile frameworks place on continuous improvement, it is understandable for teams to want to find ways to fix things they feel aren't working, but I have found that focusing on what has been working can be just as important in ensuring the team continues to succeed.
Why did that go so well?
Have you ever finished a project or a piece of work and everything felt like it went perfectly? Was it luck? Or maybe the work you were doing was easier? Obviously, there are times when these things will have an impact, but if you take a closer look there are usually factors that were directly in your control. Maybe the team tried a new process (such as test-driven development), took more time to understand a piece of work before starting or they included feedback from someone they don't normally work with very closely (including a marketing specialist into the team's Scrum ceremonies, for example). If the team can learn to identify and understand what these factors were, they can start to be intentional about continuing to do them and it will be easier for them to feel that same level success on their next project.
Building a System
If a team or organization doesn't understand what is working well, it will be difficult to scale that success across other teams and team members. Once a team is working well and they understand what is worth reproducing, they can start to use that to form standard operating procedures and processes that will facilitate onboarding of new hires and team members, creation of new teams, and cross-department learning.
High-performing teams are used to being successful and always looking for ways to improve, but focusing on what has been working well is a great way to make sure they understand how they have become a high-performing team in the first place. Continuing to revisit things in their processes and work styles that are helpful will not only allow teams to reproduce their success, but also help share their knowledge and experience to other teams to help them become successful as well.
What do you guys think? Do you normally focus more on improvement items in your retros? Or do you go through things that have been working well?