We are always looking at ways to improve the way we work; from better ways to approach responsive design to shifting the content conversation from listicles to one about brand journalism. So in that spirit, we created a set of Retrospective Cards to help better structure the questions we ask at the end of a project, and in doing so, create a better opportunity to learn from what we do and make.
It's almost always about communication.
Ever over-achievers, we recently started to look outside of project work for problems to solve, like how we can function better as a team. In those conversations, one theme always popped out: We needed a better approach than just plain-old, simple, everyday communication. So, we worked on it. Now, we hold daily stand-ups. We’ve shoved email aside for Slack for everyday jabber. And as a result, we’ve gotten a good handle on immediate needs inside the office: what happened yesterday, what’s going on right now, and what we need to accomplish in the near future.
The bigger picture is sometimes lost in all the chatter.
So, communication on the daily level: check. We had it handled. But themes kept emerging project-to-project that transcended the minute-to-minute minutiae. To understand those themes, we took a cue from Agile Methodology and included periodic retrospectives in our project flow — little time-outs to talk about how the project went. (In a previous life we would have probably called them “post-mortems,” but we thought that sounded a little grimmer than it needed to be, so “retrospectives” they happily became.)
Designing a new retro.
In conducting our own retrospectives and being invited to others, we were surprised by how the moderators are often left to their own devices. It seemed easy to get into a rut and ask similar questions over and over.
There’s only so many ways to answer “What went wrong?” and “What could have been better?” so we wondered, what questions should we be asking? Not all projects or teams are the same, so treading the same ground each time didn’t make sense. Sometimes a project went great, so in addition to dissecting the outcome, we also needed to congratulate everyone; or maybe a project was difficult, and we needed extra sensitivity to pose the right questions (and draw out the best responses).
After a bit of conversation, we decided it would be helpful to make a set of cards to help better structure our retros. We figured a throwback to old-school flash cards — something that makes the experience feel more "game-like" rather than a group interrogation — would do the trick.
What we came up with was a set of cards covering nine categories, each containing three to four individual questions.
The idea was to create categories that could be used either independently or go deep in one area. The rules were simple: pick a few relevant themes to explore, and then use some questions in each area to get responses from the group.
Next, we created a simple design system that could be easily scanned to help the moderator organize the questions.
The result is a deck of introspective awesomeness we are proud to be launching into the world.
Our goal is to start a conversation about retrospectives in the industry, and make what sounds a little like a drudgey task made up to punish team members more fun...or at least a little more pointedly useful. We all need to check our rearviews every once in a while, and if a handy little deck of cards helps, we’re all for it.