Retrospective actions: goals or wishes?

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

— French philosopher Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As part of a successful retrospective, a team will come up with one or two (hopefully not too many more) to-do items or actions. This happens as a result of identifying problems or inefficiencies in how the team works. In my experience, teams spend a large amount of time understanding and discussing the problem, a little less time coming up solutions to try for the problems, and next to no time determining how to implement the solution.

And that how part is what Saint-Exupéry is getting at when he says that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” For example, a team might leave a retrospective with the goal of “pairing more” — a wish — and yet not have discussed how it will achieve that — a plan. As a result, the retrospective goals or actions are doomed to fail.

So at your next retrospective, whether you’re a participant or facilitator, take a look at those actions that are written up there on the wall post-it. Take a few minutes to discuss the how — and enumerate the steps of the plan. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process, but it does need to connect the dots to show  the team how it is going to get from where it is today to where it wants to be. Otherwise, it’s just a wish.

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