Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Peaceful Retrospective


I've been working.

And to work is to not write blog.

With this foreword I'll get to my next subject: retrospective. The word "retrospective" comes from latin word "retrospectare", which means to look back. It is the most important thing in becoming better on what you do. To become an expert one has to reflect experiences to teachings, measure what has been learnt, contemplate what should be kept or avoided and how to proceed to upcoming challenges. That and more is what we do in retrospective mode.

             Miyamoto Musashi             
- the ultimate badass
In feudal Japan war raged. Territorial disputes were settled in brutal confrontations between samurais led by local warlords (shogun). Swords met, countless lives were lost and the successful ones survived. Eventually Edo period (1603-1868) dawned, a time of peace. Those who survived the horrors of war started to contemplate what had happened, what made them successful in the battlefield. Over 700 schools (ryu) of jujutsu were founded, in which many could learn the ways of samurai. And after nearly 400 years even I have the privilege to practise one of these.

Let's switch this to the project world. As I see it, projects are the war time. In them you just do what has to be done to make the project successful. Learning and personal development aren't the first priority. But even for the benefit of the project it is imperative that you rest, take time to be away from the project, create your own peace time.

I work as a consultant and have assignments every now and then. Right now I'm between assignments and the most visible effect is this blog. It's my way of doing retrospective. And I do have like 20-30 posts under work, but as I wrote in my previous post, I'm not prone to finishing things... But I do more than just blog. I study about TMap, I've had discussion-filled lunches with my former colleagues, participated in all kinds of work-related gatherings and workshops, started business plans for different services, planned trainings, tried to help colleagues with their problems and all in all given a lot of thought to what I've done previously and how could I make it better next time. I think I get more done now than when I'm locked in a project! Ok, it's not that productive as those who pay my salary would like it to be, but I've actually never been that good in "war time" activities anyway. Of course if projects consist of development, training and coaching activities, I'm like fish in the water...

Jibberjabber? Again?!

Anyway, if a person doesn't take time to look back, he/she will never develop. The bad ways start to pile up and they are hard to unlearn. That is the root cause of change resistance. In Scrum, which I love dearly, the process of doing things is constantly questioned. After every sprint there's a retrospective where every team member answers to questions "What went well during the sprint?" and "What could be improved in the next sprint?", and based on the answers the changes are made. This way the team refines the process and makes it their own, and adjusts it if necessary. Very organic and wise.
"The only constant is change." -Isaac Asimov
Read Our Iceberg Is Melting by John Kotter and be done with it... ;)

Anyway my point here is that don't idle when you're not doing "the actual work", whatever that means. Take your time and be active. Benefit from your peace time. Do a retrospective. Write a blog! And if you're in managerial position, make it possible for your underlings to grow. Put them to trainings. Coach them. Help them. And of course make sure that they share everything they've learned. Have a plan ready for the peace time. All the effort during it saves a whole lot of trouble when the bullets start flying again.

This guy knows it the best:
"Sweat saves blood." -Erwin Rommel
Yours truly,

Sami "Kohai" Söderblom


  1. Truer words were never spoken! But too often history teaches us that it doesn't teach us anything. Perhaps it's enough for most to just survive (stay employed), to pant and wheeze for a while until the next onslaught. Complacency is the killer. Or maybe I'm just pessimistic but hey - I'm a tester! ;)

  2. Thanks Harri!

    I've haven't had that many assignments as a consultant, but those I've had reflected for instance to practising jujutsu is like curling down to corner while others kick you in the ribs. There just isn't that much learning there... ;)

    It's very true that at least the first few days of peace time have to be spent panting and wheezing, especially after "the onslaught" projects often tend to be. But if there's any time left after your pulse has settled down and before the next battle, it might be wise to use it to gather your thoughts and prepare yourself, and others too while at it. There might be even possibility for doing some development/training/coaching as your main job if your supervisors grant you that luxury. In fact that is what consultants actually should do; We help the customer through our knowledge and expertise, we give advice and guidance. Staffing companies are completely different story.