Episode three

“My favorite holiday movie has to be Die Hard”.

“That is so not a holiday movie!” Kara quickly answers back. Here goes Kara and Kyle with their daily back and forth I said to myself. Thankfully Dennis accepts the answer and our stand up wraps up on time.

“I’ll see everyone for retro later! Don’t be late!” Dennis reminds everyone as we all walk out of the room. Now after having stuffed toys at stand up and doing code reviews side by side I was mentally prepared to try something new at our retrospective later. I wonder what’s gonna happen. Will there be role playing? Toy swords and shields? I wonder how these guys spice up their retrospective?

The rest of my day was pretty uneventful, I was working on a big feature and Kyle was pair programming with me through some of the tougher bits so time flew by pretty fast. A good fifteen minutes or so before the start of our retrospective I decided to walk into the room specified on the invite. I open the door and find a bunch of cards and figures sprawled all over the table. I see a panda holding a stick, a robot dragon and a bunch of other cool looking figures. I was getting excited about it when..

“Oh hey! You’re early, great!” Dennis greeted. “Let me clean this up before the rest of the guys get here.”

“Clean it up? We’re not going to use those?” I asked.

“These?” Dennis answered as he looked at the figures on the table. “Oh! This is my board game! Gonna play with some buddies after work, just was making sure that all the pieces are here”.

I start to blush as I realize how silly of a question that was. Who uses board games during retrospectives? I thought to myself. After all the pieces have been packed and accounted for, Dennis then puts the box away and brings out a few stacks of sticky notes and felt tip pens. He then gets up and draws three columns on the board. One that says “Things we did well” the other said “Things we didn’t do well” and the last one “Things I want to talk about”. Dennis turns to me and says “I’ll get into these once everyone is in the room” I nod as I take my seat. A few minutes later I see everyone filing, right on time as usual.

“Okay everyone is here and on time, let’s start!

Since we have a new guy I’ll go over our retro rules really quick

  1. Retros are like Vegas. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for action items that we previously agreed on that are okay to be shared with everyone else.
  2. You can use any language as long as everyone understands what you’re saying.
  3. Be present in the moment. No gadgets or distractions, if its an emergency just step out.
  4. Be in it for the whole ride, no one gets off until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Last and most important: We come here knowing we tried our best and we’re still looking to get better so be excellent to each other”.

You can tell from how Dennis rattled off the rules that he’s done this before, its probably the same set of rules for all the teams. I nodded at Dennis to signal that I’m good and I have no questions.

The retrospective begins with Dennis asking us what the previous action items were. Now from experience I’ve seen teams where the action items were a laundry list of things to do. To my surprise the team only had a two action items and both of them had people who were responsible for keeping track whether they did them or not.

“Just two? Must be doing really well then.” I just realized how snarky that sounded when Kyle started to answer back.

“Far from it, those two are just the ones we felt the most strongly about. We try to fix the things we feel most strongly about first, like people writing confusing commit messages or people not accepting Die Hard as a holiday movie.”

“Exactly! Including the Die Hard part!” Dennis confirms. What is it with these people and Die hard?

The rest of the retrospective went similarly to a lot of others I’ve been to. People write down things to post on their respective columns . They huddle and discuss things they can do better. There was something different though, something that I haven’t really seen before. They don’t talk on top of each other, they get excited and loud over certain topics but they don’t get angry. They’re knee deep in their discussions one minute then laughing about someone’s misspelling a commit message the next.

We finished making our next action items just before the time box expired. Dennis thanked us for our time and we started walking out to get back to work. I felt a hand on my shoulder as I was walking out

“You alright?” Dennis asked. “I noticed you were a bit quiet back there, is everything alright?”.

“Yeah, its just I’m new and all so I didn’t want to rock the boat too much you know?”

“I see, well you should know that being new is a really good thing. It means you’re not yet used to all the stuff we do, so you’ll probably see things that we’ve accepted as normal when in fact they’re really weird. Besides you see how they go back and forth right? Do you feel that you can’t come in and speak your mind?”

“Nah its kind of like the opposite, I kinda feel like they have little pauses where they’re waiting for me to say something but I just sat there. Its all good though, I’m just getting my feet wet and I don’t really disagree with what they guys are saying. Maybe except the Die Hard part”.

Dennis let out a chuckle. “Its good to hear then. If you ever feel like you can’t talk to the team about stuff whether its in retrospectives or anywhere else please let me know. That is something that’s really important.”.

“You got it!” I answered as I started walking out of the room.

“Oh and before I forget. I have a special action item for you. Go re-watch Die Hard. I swear its a holiday movie! Scrum Master’s orders”. Dennis said with is usual mischievous grin.

At least that’s one more thing I know, they’re really into Die Hard. I better start writing down some stuff to talk about for our next retrospective.. and find some time to Netflix that movie.