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How can retros be more effective and fun?

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Senior Software Engineer at Taro Community8 months ago

I'm looking for ideas to improve the retro process. In general, our team does what went well, what didn't and kudos. There are a few action items that come out but those go into the void despite being tracked. What are some of the ways to improve the process and make sure feedback/action items is actually addressed? Thank you!

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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    There's 2 separate issues here, so I'll split my response up into 2 comments:

    1. Making the experience more fun
    2. Ensuring that follow-ups are actually followed up on

    Making Things More FUN

    This will mainly come from expanding the kudos section. Here's some ideas I've seen/played around with:

    1. Set up a kudos leaderboard - Tally up who gets the most thanks and revisit the leaderboard every retro. It can refresh every quarter or half. This turns it into a fun game, and it gives the most helpful people more visibility as they're highlighted by being at the top of the board every retro. This is good - They deserve it! (and it will help with performance review) Longer term, this will incentivize teammates to be more helpful so they can also climb the leaderboard.
    2. Give out gifts - Literally just give away stuff like a $10 Starbucks/DoorDash gift card to the person at the top of the leaderboard or something. If you decide to not have the leaderboard, you can issue it every retro to whoever got the most kudos within that meeting. Maybe have some rule where you can't get it twice in a row so the tech leads don't suck up all the benefit. Even though engineers make so much $$$, I haven't met one that isn't fairly excited to get free food/drinks. Even though it's just $10, it's the thought that counts 🎁🥳

    For resources on how to be a more helpful teammate, I recommend these:

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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    Making The Follow-Ups Happen

    • It's not enough to throw the tasks on the backlog, you need to make sure they also have the following:
      • A due-date/priority label
      • An owner
    • Now here's the hard part, but it's actually quite straightforward to understand: Someone needs to be the "mom" of the team and remind (pester) people to accomplish the follow-up tasks. There's really no other way. Follow-up items from retros tend to not be as glamorous as roadmap feature work, but they need to get done - There's a reason they were committed to in the retro. Check in on these tasks at least 3 times until they get done: Before, on, and after the due date.

    At Instagram, we had a problem where follow-up tasks from SEVs (term for bad production outages at Meta) weren't being done because engineers would ignore them and prioritize roadmap feature work instead. Over time, this led to our quality and system health suffering, so many senior/staff engineers (including me) started being the "moms" of our team and poking engineers to do them. If they truly didn't have the bandwidth, we would:

    • Get it assigned to another engineer
    • Talk to their manager to de-prioritize another item on their plate so they could do it

    Being a "mom" and telling people to be responsible isn't the most exciting job in the world, but it's important and one of the more unsung ways senior/staff engineers fill in the gaps on their team. Since you're a senior engineer, you can talk with your manager about being the person to fill in such a role. Seems like good scope for a staff promotion!

    Here's some other good resources to check out: