As a part of our retrospective process, at the end of each release, each Product Group should hold their own Group Retrospective. The goal of the retrospective is to talk through what went well, what went wrong, and what can be improved. Some Engineering sub-departments, such as UX and Quality, also conduct their own retrospectives to feed into the main R&D retrospective and should generally follow the same process outlined here.
In order to generate the best results from a retrospective, the following elements must be present:
Not every retrospective will require both of these elements - for example, an iteration where "nothing went wrong" may see retrospectives that don't benefit from a safe environment. Similarly, an iteration that has nothing but "obvious" problems will probably have a productive retrospective even without a strong plan for the discussion. However, even iterations that seem fine on the surface can harbor deep problems, so it is always best to be prepared.
Retrospectives are inherently conversations about what went well and what went wrong in a project or iteration. While it's easy to talk about what went well, what went wrong can be a touchy subject. Without a safe environment, issues may go unmentioned, and the group won't improve as rapidly as they otherwise could. To collect as much feedback as possible, we recommend that you observe the following:
All retrospectives should have an impartial moderator. This moderator actively attempts to remain objective and is focused on guiding the conversation forward throughout the meeting. If participants feel that the moderator has a stake in the conversation, they may feel as though it is not safe to voice dissent or share concerns.
Normally a manager should act as this moderator. In some circumstances, the moderator may feel a strong need or desire to participate in the conversation. In that case, they should make it clear that their participation is as an individual participant, not as the moderator. If the moderator wants to take a very active role in the discussion, they should find a peer, Director, or other member of the group willing to moderate.
It's easy for retrospectives to go off the rails if there isn't a good plan for collecting actionable insights. If the moderator doesn't guide the conversation successfully, the retrospective could be dominated by a few "loud voices" or could stay focused on the facts and feelings about the past iteration without drawing any conclusions. To make sure the conversation is productive, we recommend that you have a clear agenda for the conversation. The moderator for the retrospective is then responsible for ensuring the agenda is followed and completed. While the specific nature of this agenda will vary from group to group, we recommend something that follows this general pattern:
Right now we are leaving it to individual Engineering Managers how they would like to collect retrospective notes - GitLab issues, Google docs, etc. After the retrospective is complete, the Engineering Manager has until the Retrospective Summary (shortly after the 22nd every month) to make relevant notes from the retrospective public. Groups are encouraged to link to these notes from their group page in the handbook.
We recommend the following resources if you'd like to learn more about running effective retrospectives: