Johannes Thönes

Software-Developer, ThoughtWorker, Permanent Journeyman, Ruby Enthusiast, Java and Devils Advocate.

Retrospectives Without Action Items?

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Have you ever had a retrospective where you didn’t define actions to be executed and checked up on in the next retrospective? I did. article-image

I facilitated a retrospective using the Lean Coffee exercise. This helped to generate some good discussion, but in the end there was no action item. Is that a bad thing?

Let me give you some context.

I facilitated my fourth or fifth retrospective about two weeks ago. For the ‘gather data’ and ‘generate insight phase’, we ran a 40-minute Lean Coffee. This means:

  1. everyone writes topics to discuss on post-it notes
  2. the topics get democratically prioritised by dot-voting
  3. the topics with highest priority get discussed in a time-box

I used this exercise for the second time in a retrospective. Both times it was good, because it created an open discussion and thought exchange about topics important to the team.

But each time, the discussion ended with no concrete conclusions or action items.

I think the Avoiding the Do-Nothing Retrospective principle is quite important (see Agile Retrospectives). And this kind of retrospective violates this principle in my eyes.

Nevertheless, I believe that this is fine in some situations. There may be topics in a team that need to be discussed. Sometimes even topics which linger for weeks to months. I feel these topics cannot be discussed in a one to two hour iteration retrospective.

For me, starting a discussion is the outcome of the retrospective. Maybe the discussion will continue during the iteration or within the next retrospective and eventually yield action items. Would you agree?

I was wondering if there is a way to keep the very open format of the Lean Coffee (or something similar), while still generating to more action items. Is there some exercise to do later to pick up ideas shared? Maybe by helping the team to set potential milestones in discussion?

Do you have some ideas?