Action: “We should improve communication”… yeah

I assume most of you have attended one or more retrospectives or read the action list of a retrospective. If you were lucky the retro as organized as described in the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Ester Derby and Diana Larsen. Setting the Stage, Gathering Data, Generating Insights, Define Actions and Closing the Retrospective. The outcome should be an actionable item list.

Should be… I have seen many action lists that have actions like:

  • Developers should write more unit tests
  • We should improve communication
  • Management should support the team
  • Product Owner should improve the user stories
  • etc.

I think you recognize this kind of actions. How many of those actions were really completed? I suspect most of these actions were not completed and popped up again in next retrospectives. It is hard to change, Jurgen Appelo wrote a nice small book about How To Change The World. Easy to read, and it can give you some tools to change things.

What I would like to address in this blog post is the way how we write down actions. Getting Things Done (GTD) defines Projects and Actions. Example of GTD projects are:

  • Get new staff person on board
  • Orchestrate a one-hour keynote presentation
  • Finalize computer upgrades
  • Get proficient with videoconferencing
  • Finalize employment agreements
  • Get comfortable with new contact management software
  • Finalize staff policies and procedures

According to GTD a project is any desired result that requires more than one action step. Looking back at the actions that described above, in my opinion every action needs more than one action step to have result. So we can conclude that we often see projects, described as actions, as results of a retrospective. It is OK to describe projects but also describe the next actions to get results. Realize also, a project will need more than one action to get results.

GTD can help. GTD defines actions and it is advised you use special verbs to describe your actions. Verbs you can use are:

  • Print
  • Type
  • Draft
  • Review
  • Call
  • Read
  • Meet
  • Email
  • Edit
  • Talk/Discuss about
  • Set up
  • Create
  • Find
  • Research
  • Send

An action should start or have a word like above. That makes an action actionable and something you can really execute. Furthermore, realize that most projects will need more than just one action to get results. As retrospective facilitator or team member challenge the team / help the team to identify the actions to get a project moving.

The challenge for you as retrospective facilitator? Check the action list after your next retrospective, are there actions or projects on the list?

A nice blog about this topic is: http://www.43folders.com/2006/11/14/project-versus-next-action

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