A brief guide to facilitating retros

One of the cornerstones of our engineering process at Omada is the retro (short for retrospective). A retro is a regularly scheduled time for the team to reflect on the past week and discuss what about our processes we should change to make the next week better. Most of our teams have retros at the same time each week, toward the end of the week.

Retros at Omada started with the engineering teams, and over the years we’ve introduced other parts of the organization to their magic. From the outside, retros can seem like post-mortems or complaining sessions. So it’s been important for us to emphasize that retros are regularly occurring and process-focused. (And that post-mortems and complaining sessions can also be very valuable — they just can't replace retros.)

As new teams started having retros, we realized that we needed a guide to the basics of an Omada retro. Since the facilitator has a major impact on the pace and tenor of the retro, we focused on training more facilitators. (In some teams, the manager or team lead runs the retro every week; other teams rotate facilitators.) I made this one-page cheat sheet outlining how to effectively moderate a retro. Take a look, and maybe even print it out and take it to your next retro!

hand-drawn retro facilitation guide

Here are a few translations and notes!

  • EANABS are Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages. We usually have a mix of beer-drinkers, whiskey-drinkers, and non-drinkers at our retros. While alcohol is a fun way to demarcate that this isn’t just a regular meeting, it’s important to make everyone on your team feel included, so if you are serving alcohol, other fun drinks should be available.
  • Learn more about the Five Whys (and why you might ask them) on this wikipedia page.
  • The timeline is assuming a 60-minute long retro and a co-located team (thus the sticky notes and the pens). If your folks are remote, tools like Stickies.io and Retrospectus are useful for collecting people's thoughts and reflections.
  • This is just one style of retro — there are many, many ways to run a retro!

(Here's the guide as a PDF.)

Thank you to Vincent Coste, who gave an internal presentation on our retro practices that inspired me to create this guide!

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