(Ruthless) Retrospectives for true business agility

are not just an “ avatar” of the traditional phase end lessons learned processes. They are a core practice of agility. This is what separates the winners from the losers. Those that achieve true business agility and those that don’t.

However they are not easy. Too often, especially in large enterprises and programs, they are half-hearted attempts to scramble a bunch of action items to show that “we” are a learning organization. But are they really learning and improving ? Organization culture and internal politics are the biggest impediments to have honest and frank retrospectives. Fear must be taken out of the system. We must create a culture where people are not afraid to say that the emperor has no clothes. Otherwise we will never get to the real problems – the ones that really matter and will help improve the system.  An organization culture that is biased towards optimism either genuinely or because of internal politics leading people to strategically misrepresent blinds us from seeing things as they are. At times, it may help to be self-critical. While we should hope for the best, we must plan for the worst.

Ruthless introspection and retrospection are the fundamental pillars on which to base our Agile transformation efforts. It is critical if we are aiming for real business agility and not just that agile label for the marketing slides. Without discovering and fixing our systemic flaws, attempts at adopting Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, LeSS or any other XYZ method won’t yield us any real benefits. All we would get is a fancy new process – waterfall with agile terminologies. The change would remain at a process level limited to the tool probably and to your marketing slides. If we are really looking to impact the bottom line, it’s a totally different ball game. The goal of any transformation effort cannot be to go “agile” (or the new buzz word “DevOps”) but to benefit business by transforming the system into a leaner, faster and better machine –  a system that is continuously learning and adapting. To do this, retrospectives that actually find and fix real problems are the key. And they must happen at all levels of the system, not just the scrum teams. Honest retrospectives are a key to success at team, program and portfolio levels.

Inspect and adapt is the name of the game – and that is at the core of true business agility.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..