What Went Well is a retrospective technique that serves a crucial role in the agile methodology and has become widely used in the agile community. It is one of the best opportunities for both remote and in-office teams to analyze any potential improvements by asking two (seemingly simple) questions: what went well and what didn’t go so well?
One of the most important benefits of this retrospective method is that it helps team members analyze the whole process from the previous sprint. They can also brainstorm ways to improve productivity and boost efficiency. Using ‘What Went Well’ is especially great for new teams, helping them stay focused and set action items to develop new improvements before the next sprint or project iteration.
In order to start a What Went Well retrospective, the facilitator in charge should present how the method works. Then, they should tell the team that the total time limit is 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the team. Before moving further, make sure everyone understands the technique and that they feel comfortable proceeding.
The next step should not take more than 15 minutes, as you ask all participants to answers the questions “What Went Well?” and “What Didn’t Go Well?”. They should write one idea per sticky note and a record should be kept. At this stage, team members should continue to keep their thoughts private, as it is important for everyone to have their own ideas without being influenced by their peers. Once time is up, all members’ notes are organized by which question was being answered.
The third step should take a maximum of 10 minutes — it’s time for theming. Often, the output notes will be similar in topic or theme. So, during this time, all participants should collaborate to group the notes into appropriate buckets. This is done to save time during the next step and ensure all themes are covered.
If the discussion topics are not obvious, the facilitator can opt for a dot voting session. This way, each participant receives a number of votes they can allocate based on which subject they deem worthy of prioritization.
The next step is to discuss the topics under each question. Depending on team size, anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes should be allocated. If dot voting wasn’t used, the order of discussion can be chosen by the facilitator. It is important to frame each subject into a timebox so the conversation can move at a faster pace.
During the discussion, all team members need to keep in mind that they have to present the positive side of what went well, but also come up with ways to improve for future sprints. The purpose is not only to learn how to avoid issues next time, but also to do more of what went well!
One of the greatest benefits of this method is that even newcomers can contribute to the discussion. In an agile environment, the team should come back to the What Went Well technique after approximately two weeks to check on their progress.
Part of the What Went Well technique’s beauty is how straightforward it is. That said, there are certain things any team should avoid.
For example, group thinking should not happen at all. The individual’s ideas are much more valuable in this context. This happens rarely, but arguing with your team members should also be avoided! This defeats the purpose of having a fast-paced, open-minded discussion.
So what can you expect from your What Went Well retrospective?
Depending on the project, there can be a multitude of What Went Well examples, such as:
We shipped on time with no bugs reported.
The collaboration was great in our paired coding sessions.
User testing was better developed this sprint.
The team had a good time working together.
All members knew what they had to do — and did it!
On the other hand, here are some What Didn’t Go Well examples:
There were unclear responsibilities and roles in the team.
Priorities were not clear and members did not take them into account.
We had to postpone our release date of the product.
User stories changing late in the sprint.
The QA workflow experienced trouble and I had to wait a long time for a review.