Retrospective as dedicated peer-review forum?

In my experience, it’s difficult to obtain peer-review feedback. Usually done on a volunteer basis, most people have good intentions about giving people feedback, especially the kind that goes into their job review, but when push comes to shove in the billable hours of a week, “Fill out Johnny’s feedback request” typically keeps getting deprioritized. The feedback we get is sometimes from random people who may or may not have worked closely with us on our project(s) and can be dated or simply rushed. How then do we obtain useful, comprehensive feedback?

Like most things that we know to be important, we simply need to make time for it, or it won’t get done. Thankfully, agile teams have a built-in mechanism already in place for regular feedback, known as the retrospective. Sure, typically it’s intended in the context of ateam, but individual feedback is certainly part of that. And it’s not as if we have to focus on individuals very often — once every three or four months is probably more feedback than most people get. If you’re doing a retrospective each iteration (say, every one to two weeks), one retro every quarter isn’t bad. And think about the quality of that feedback:

  • Rather than written form, sometimes interpreted by a middle man, we would get face-to-face feedback and all the benefits of in-person communication.
  • We could ask clarifying questions on the spot.
  • Our feedback would be more tempered, gracious and person-focused.

How would it work? Maybe something like this:

  1. The facilitator announces in advance that the next retrospective will be to give 360 feedback to everyone on the team.
  2. Team members can thoughtfully consider what they might provide to each other, perhaps taking some notes for themselves (a test-driven approach?).
  3. At the retrospective, the facilitator announces the time-boxed periods in which each pair is to spend giving feedback and creates a pairamid to help the group keep track of who needs to pair with whom.
  4. Pairs work together to discuss. They can move around the room, use whiteboards, keep their own notes — however they wish to record or share feedback.
  5. After all combinations have paired, the facilitator asks participants if they’d like to share anything they learned about themselves and if they have any areas that they want to work on or start exploring.
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