A Software Pit Stop: 4 Reasons Our Team Never Skips a Retrospective

A Software Pit Stop: 4 Reasons Our Team Never Skips a Retrospective

Introduction

Agile and scrum have become buzz words in the industry. So it isn’t surprising that questions such as “Are you still agile if you don’t have retrospectives at the end of every sprint or at all?” frequently appear across the software development landscape.

We’re not here to answer that question. We’re agile, in many senses of the word.  For that reason, we find holding retrospectives on each of our projects at Syncro Medical to be an essential part of our process.  In a retrospective, everyone has a platform for expressing areas of triumph and concern as well as identifying blockers and issues. Delineating what works and what doesn’t helps identify where there is opportunity to grow and what’s to be celebrated. Therefore, we view them as key components to our clients’ and our own successes.

Here are the 4 reasons why we will never skip a retro at Syncro Medical.

A Natural Fit

I find myself often saying that something is part of the culture here at Syncro Medical. That might sound trite, but it’s true. That’s why the adoption of Scrum, in our pursuit to be better, is a natural fit.  We’re always looking for ways to improve our technical/project management skills and our process, all of which are equally important.

Our culture can be characterized as one where we always aim to “raise the bar”.  Continuous improvement has always been a significant part of Syncro Medical’s DNA. Another part of the culture here is brutal honesty. Put a group of our engineers together in a room and you’ll hear honest opinions.

So, it’s no surprise that retros were very well-received by our staff.  We confirmed this observation by polling our staff after rolling out retrospectives across the company. They overwhelmingly gave retros the thumbs up. The consensus is that retrospectives provide a great opportunity for a team to candidly assess its performance and share insights on improvements moving forward on a project.

A Unique Touch

At Syncro Medical, we form a custom team for each project. Each client or project has unique needs, not only in the sense of the context and subject of the project, but also the people, process, and circumstances surrounding it. That’s why retrospectives are such an essential tool in our approach to projects.  They’re a major force for adapting and continuously optimizing each team’s process.  Retros allow process to remain just as unique and dynamic as our clients and their needs so that we can meet and exceed their expectations.

For example, we may have a project with 6 to 8 developers and 2 to 3 QA testers. There’s a flow from developer to tester to release. That process and how well we execute it will depend on many factors. A retrospective gives team members an opportunity to point out any inefficiencies. For instance, a QA team member on one of our projects mentioned receiving a build the day before release and not having sufficient time to test the feature. Together, the team developed a solution that enabled QA to test the feature in the branch earlier in the sprint, thereby making the process more efficient.

It’s also possible that some team members came from a project with a less rigorous process than the current project. The retro allows the team to reflect on the process and tweak it as needed.

A Software Pit Stop

It’s so easy to get caught up in doing what we do (writing requirements, writing and testing code, and documenting) without taking time to reflect and improve. But imagine if a race car driver were to just keep going lap after lap and never make the occasional pit stop.  The driver may never address the things that need adjusting, tuning, or refueling to be able to finish the race.  We’re very flexible and adaptable at Syncro. It’s what we do — overcome obstacles to help our clients be successful. However, continuous improvement happens best when thoughtfully planned and executed.

Engineers may have the skills, experience, and endurance to overcome challenges.  However, project frustrations can still build up over time. Unmet expectations within the team can cause stress and grief. Having planned time to reflect and discuss allows the team to vent those concerns and focus on the work. Every retro has action items for anything that can be fixed and the team holds each other accountable in following up with the action items to resolve the issue, just like how a pit crew trusts and relies on each other.  In the end, retros eliminate these distractions so the team can work like a well-oiled machine and be productive.

Retrospectives provide a safe space for each team member to become more self-aware. This self-awareness oftentimes produces opportunities for improvement for both the individual and the team. This intimate aspect of retros increases team bonding, comradery, and productivity.

An example of the benefit of taking time to refuel was on one of our projects that had a large and multi-functional team.  During one of their early retros, the team highlighted the need for more effective communication channels amongst the various disciplines. They decided on and executed action items that established these needed channels (i.e. new Slack channels and amending workflow status definitions.

The results were immediate and fantastic.  The team spent less time trying to obtain information and status, but instead received updates as they happened and were able to respond swiftly.  Velocity improved and issues reduced, resulting in greater capacity and outputs per sprint.  Best of all, it benefited the client by beating their deadline and allowing us to get a head start on the next feature!  That win-win situation further underscores the power of retros.

Value to Clients

To be honest, providing value to clients isn’t really the last reason to have a retro. In fact, it’s the main reason to have retros, and is built into the three reasons above.

Our main goal is to give our clients the best quality product and experience. This is in our DNA, in our culture. We hire people who care about what they do and care about doing their best and doing what’s best for the client.

Providing value to our clients is why our quality policy ends with the goal of “meeting our customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations.”  The only way we achieve that goal is to acknowledge that every client and project is unique and dynamic.  So, we adapt to work with our clients’ processes rather than force our clients to fit into a one size fits all solution.

Taking the time to focus on and review our process during retros, both the successes and the opportunities for improvement, ultimately creates greater value for our clients. The retro platform allows us to continually improve project efficiency and more quickly adapt to changing requirements and dynamics.

Conclusion

Today, retros are the norm. Time and time again we’ve seen the benefits of taking that scheduled time to reflect on the past and plan on future improvements.  This allows Syncro Medical to uniquely fine tune our process for each client. Internally, our engineers become better-equipped, enabled, and even happier. Combined with a cleaner and smoother internal process, we’re able to provide greater value and quality products for our clients.

Looking at those reasons, it’s clear why it is our belief that retrospectives are, without a doubt, a fantastic catalyst for improvement.  Our teams will do whatever it takes to never skip a retro because it would mean missing out on potential.  Syncro Medical is so driven to optimally meet our clients’ needs that we don’t even charge our clients time for retrospectives.  It’s an investment on our part to meet our own quality policy where we pledge to “establish, maintain, and improve internal processes”. All in the name of doing right by our clients.

 

Danny Bolella is a Software Engineer at Syncro Medical with a focus on mobile development. His software engineering experience includes industries ranging across energy, finance, and medical. Danny is an experienced Certified Scrum Master, which he leverages to lead team agile processes and continuous improvement. Danny holds a BS in Computer Science with a minor in History from Stevens Institute of Technology. Outside of work, he enjoys tinkering on his own mobile and web projects as well as going through agile blogs and community posts. When away from his keyboard, you’ll find him reading a biography, playing a board game with friends, or volunteering in the local community.

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