Reflective practice within Agile project management

agile cards

At MEERQAT, we are witnessing the benefits of reflective practice in the health sector, where frontline clinical teams have used our basemaps to reflect on, and improve their practices in relation to the Australian national healthcare quality standards.

It is interesting to see the challenges of using reflective practice in another domain, namely Agile project management.

What is Agile methodology in project management?

Agile is an approach to project management that is now widely used in the IT sector. It is mostly used for the development of new software products. It focuses upon small iterations of work by teams, which are then tested with end-users and aims to deliver a “minimum viable product” as an important phase in product development.

Agile has 12 core principles, one of which is: “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly”.

These reflections are called “retrospectives”. Keep reading this article to learn the benefits of reflective practice in Scrum teams from the perspective of Agile project management experts.

What are retrospectives?

As described in the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the team to inspect itself. After the reflection, the team creates a plan for improvements to be executed during the next Sprint.

Businesses use a variety of methodologies to bring structure to how they identify and act upon improvement opportunities.

The Agile methodology reflects the concept that businesses need to concentrate on bringing incremental improvements to products, services and processes if they wish to continue to move in the right direction.

agile project management team doing retrospectives
Scrum teams use retrospectives to create a plan for improvements

The analysis they perform during the retrospective phase enables teams to achieve better awareness and improve their skills and competencies, their knowledge and understanding, and workplace practices in general. It involves:

●       Considering what we did

●       Considering why we did it like that

●       Considering whether it was successful

●       Considering whether it could have been done better

●       Planning for any changes to our future practice

Benefits and challenges of retrospectives

John Yorke, an experienced Agile practitioner and coach, has recently written on the benefits and challenges faced when conducting retrospectives.

“I believe every team – not just technical teams — should take a break and reflect regularly. Regardless of what you do, you can improve, but you need an environment conducive for that thought process. If you can learn to reflect effectively, an hour away from your normal environment may end up being the most productive hour of your week.”

Yorke acknowledges that a key challenge in facilitating and conducting retrospectives is “getting past the noise to get at the real issues”.  He notes that “sometimes team members are afraid of disagreement so shy away from difficult topics, however differences of opinion are where the real change happens”.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”

John Yorke concludes with this well-known adage

Another experienced Agile practitioner, Toni Tassani, has commented upon the “common pitfalls” of retrospectives. Some of them are “stale and unproductive retrospectives using the same format every sprint, or retrospectives with unconstructive lengthy conversations leading to no clear improvement or no action at all”.

Tassani suggests the remedy lies in keeping the focus on the essence of Agile retrospectives, which was always continuous improvement, and adding known and established continuous improvement activities.

The principles of continuous improvement

The continuous improvement model reflects the idea that organizations should undertake incremental improvements to services, products and processes.

Although it seems like a simple thing to achieve, leaders and teams who are not familiar with process improvement techniques have a hard time sustaining it.

To implement this model, organizations need to understand continuous improvement and the core principles they need to follow. It also helps to research some of the best practices.

The core principles for continuous improvement are:

Principle #1 – Concentrate on small changes

Principle #2 – Listen to your employees

Principle #3 – Incremental improvements do not cost a lot

Principle #4 – Employees get involved and take ownership

Principle #5 – Improvement is reflective

Principle #6 – Improvement is repeatable and measurable

With these principles in mind, we can conclude with the idea that improvements are based on small changes, not only on major paradigm shifts or new inventions. Moreover, employee ideas are valuable so they can take ownership and engage in the continuous improvement model.

continuous improvements
Take your time to try different approaches until you find the one that works for you and your team

In addition, open communication during every phase of executing an improvement is essential to both the final results and to the maintenance of employee engagement.

To achieve real improvement, the impact of change must be measured. This makes it possible to determine if the change can be applied successfully to other problems.

Using the right tools and methods for continuous improvements

If you are not used to being reflective it can be hard to know where to start the process. Luckily there are many models you can use to guide your reflection.

You may find one that works for you, or you may decide that none of them really suit.

Take some time to try different approaches until you find the one that works for you.

You may find that as time goes on and you develop as a reflective practitioner, you will choose a method to suit your current circumstances. The important part is that it works – if it doesn’t then you may need to move on and try something else.

The MEERQAT approach for continuous improvements

MEERQAT offers Agile project managers just such a tool for ensuring they can get the most out of their retrospectives. Structured conversations powered by MEERQAT enable teams to reflect on what they do, what works, what doesn’t and why.

The outcomes from each retrospective can be stored within the application, providing an important repository of information that can be reviewed as the team progresses through different phases of a project.

Importantly, MEERQAT also enables a seamless translation from the outcomes of a retrospective into an evidence-based quality improvement plan.

The drag-and-drop functionality of the Action Planning Tool (which is actually modelled on a concept used in Agile called “Kanban”) allows you to prioritise, organise and track your improvement activities.

This is another example of the way MEERQAT can add value to important team-based, quality improvement activities. Book a demo!

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