Are You Using a Team Backlog in Your Retrospectives?


In this interview, Kanchan Khera and Bhuwan Lodha detail how adding a team backlog to your retrospectives can help your team go from good to great. With agile's core belief of continuous improvement, learn how the team backlog can help you get there.

Noel: I was reading the abstract for your session, "Building a Team Backlog: The Power of Retrospectives," and I was struck by when you say that sometimes teams "lose interest in their own improvement as a team." Could you go into what leads to that occurring? It seems like such a poor choice for a team to make, and I'm very curious what brings them to that decision.
Kanchan & Bhuwan: This is an unconscious choice the team makes while their focus is on successful delivery. And while few may start to put themselves to the rigor of retrospectives, only few succeed as there is not a clear structure to this. Teams stumble on their way and ultimately find their way out of it with repeated failure to turn action items into a real change.
Noel: I've recently interviewed a handful of people who are all stressing this need for worthwhile retrospectives, because of the benefits and resolutions that they really can provide for future products. Why do you think there is this current push for them? Is it that we've found a better way to organize and implement them, is it that you're seeing teams make the poor choice to leave them out, or maybe a combination of both?
Kanchan & Bhuwan: In every journey, the immediate focus is on understanding whether it will work for us in delivering successful results. Agile has been here for a while and all through this time teams were focused on understanding and delivering iterations. Then you come to excellence. So lately, there has been lot of focus on achieving excellence and for that you cannot overlook the continuous "inspect and adapt" cycle.
Noel: I love that one of the keys to building this excellent "team backlog" that you recommend is buidling it with "creative" ways. I don't know anyone who argues against introducing creativity wherever you can, and I'm really curious to learn more about some of these creative building strategies.
Kanchan & Bhuwan: We have experimented with variety of styles back home. Our favorite is 'I love-I hate' style. Love and hate have a strong emotional connect, the team immediately connects to it, and we have lots of feelings on the table. Here the facilitator should be smart enough to know how to deal with it and turn them into tangible action items for the team backlog.
Noel: In regards to "backlog grooming," we know how it's typically adressed and tackled when you're dealing with a product backlog—are similar strategies used when grooming a team backlog?
Kanchan & Bhuwan: Yes, it is similar but more lightweight. We would not spend as much time in estimating or with the stakeholder.
Noel: Lastly, since there are so many variations and hybrids of agile, some are using scrum, some use kanban, some still use a bit of waterfall—should the team backlog work for any of these combinations, or do you believe there is there one strategy in particular that really helps the team backlog do what it's designed to do?
Kanchan & Bhuwan: Great point indeed! Yes, we think it should work for all the scenarios. All you need is highly motivated individuals who want to choose the path from good to great.
Portfolio manager and avid agile enthusiast, Kanchan Khera believes that agile is a way of life and a very powerful concept with the pure intent of making successful products and happy people. She sees huge untapped potential in agile that could change the way we think and work. Kanchan has extensive experience with agile teams in varied roles, has spoken at conferences worldwide, and is considering writing a book about her journey building high performing teams. Kanchan enjoys painting, listening to music, traveling, and problem solving. She hates doing daily chores or following routines. Contact her at @k_khera.
Product manager Bhuwan Lodha is a certified Scrum Product Owner and Pragmatic Marketing certified product manager. Bhuwan has extensive experience working with agile teams and projects of various sizes at companies like SAP and Nokia. Throughout his career, he has had the opportunity to build great teams and market winning products. Bhuwan says that “Being agile is similar to having common sense in the modern world—it's essential but often underrated.” A speaker at agile conferences worldwide, he is working on a book about high performing teams and agility. Bhuwan enjoys reading, traveling, and following trends in the hi-tech industry. Contact him at @bhuwan.

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