For years, I would tell anyone who would listen that retrospectives are The Core of Agility. The Most Important Thing ™ you can do to become more agile.
Turns out, I was wrong. Retrospectives are not the most important part of agile. Actionable learning is.
Here’s what I mean by actionable learning. Actionable learning is the act of gaining knowledge or skills that have the potential to be turned into an action.
Actionable learning is what leads to growth and continuous improvement. And that’s what really defines agility. It’s not whether you have daily scrums or maintain a prioritized backlog. It’s not whether you have sprints or cross-functional teams.
All of those things are there to help you learn, and then to encourage you to act on that learning.
The takeaway from all this is: to become more agile, you and your team must do whatever you need to do in order to learn and act.
Now it just so happens that for many teams (likely most), the retrospective is a fantastic way to get your team to arrive at actionable learning opportunities. So much of your job is “we’ve got to build the thing!”. It’s hard to stop and ask yourself: how can we do this better?
That’s why the retrospective exists. It’s time that you have set aside to question how you’re acting and how you’re communicating. It’s a time to inspect your processes and attempt to fix what’s broken. It’s time to work on becoming a better, more trusting team.
But. If you can do all that without running regular retrospectives, then great! The retrospective is not the goal and you can feel free to skip it. As long you continue to learn and act on that learning.
So, I was wrong. The retrospective is not the core of agility. But for most teams, it sure is the best way to get to the actionable learning you need.