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What’s the Difference Between an Agile Retrospective and an Incident Retrospective?

Ken Gavranovic
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9.14.2023
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Post-Incident Analysis

Blameless Chief Operating Officer Ken Gavranovic recently sat down with Lee Atchison, a renowned expert in system reliability, to discuss the topic of conducting effective incident retrospectives. 

You can watch their engaging, informative discussion below, or read on for our overview of the greatest hits from their talk.

Agile development and incident management are the backbones of any tech-driven development cycle. At the heart of these practices lies the art of retrospectives. But what sets apart an Agile retrospective from an incident one? Let's get nerdy about it.

Agile vs. Incident Retrospectives: Snapshot

An Agile retrospective and an incident retrospective (also sometimes referred to as a “postmortem” or “post-incident review”) are both types of meetings aimed at reviewing and improving processes, but each focuses on different aspects of a project or system and usually involve different participants. 

Here’s how the two approaches differ:

Agile Retrospective

Focus:

  • Targets the development process, team collaboration, and performance during a specific period (usually a sprint).

Aim:

  • To identify what went well, what didn't go well, and what could be improved in terms of team processes and methodologies.

Frequency:

  • Usually conducted at the end of each sprint or development cycle.

Participants:

  • Typically involves all members of the Agile team, including developers, testers, designers, and sometimes even stakeholders.

Tools and Techniques:

  • May use methods like "Start, Stop, Continue," SWOT analysis, or various kinds of voting and prioritization exercises.
  • Tools like sticky notes, boards, and specialized retrospective software may be used.

Outcome:

  • Concrete action items for the team to focus on in the next sprint to improve performance and output.

Incident Retrospective

Focus:

  • Examines a specific incident that occurred in the production environment. The incident could be anything from a complete system outage to a minor issue affecting only a subset of users.

Aim:

  • To understand the root cause of the incident, how it was resolved, and how similar incidents can be prevented in the future.

Frequency:

  • Conducted after the resolution of a notable incident. Not tied to the development cycle.

Participants:

  • Usually involves those who were directly part of incident detection, response, and resolution. This could include operations teams, specific developers, and sometimes even customer support.

Tools and Techniques:

  • Root cause analysis methods, incident timelines, and data analytics tools may be used.
  • Checklists and detailed incident logs are often reviewed.

Outcome:

  • A set of action items aimed at preventing future incidents, improving monitoring, or enhancing the incident response process.

In summary, while Agile retrospectives are aimed at overall process improvement in the development cycle, incident retrospectives focus on learning from operational mishaps to improve system reliability and incident response. Both are essential for a mature, responsive, and effective organization.

Tips on Crafting Stellar Agile Retrospectives

  • Kick off with good vibes: A positive start often leads to constructive discussions.
  • All hands on deck: Bring in everyone who was part of the sprint.
  • Favor rich feedback: Encourage comprehensive insights over shallow observations.
  • Roll out immediate actions: Outline steps to be rolled out ASAP post-retrospective.
  • Keep tabs: Regularly check in on the progress of actions set in motion.

Agile Retrospective Cornerstones

  • Friendly atmosphere: Let everyone feel they're in a judgment-free zone.
  • Cheers to wins: Spotlighting triumphs uplifts team morale.
  • Spot hurdles: Pinpointing issues paves the way for enhancements.
  • Brainstorm fixes: Encourage solutions as much as problem-spotting.
  • Task delegation: Assign responsibilities for actionable solutions.
  • Consistent follow-ups: They're key to ensure plans turn into actions.

Bonus Retrospective Tips

  • Value every viewpoint, irrespective of rank or years clocked in the field.
  • Specify challenges to offer clear insights.
  • Draft action items that are SMART.
  • Prioritize a constructive vibe throughout.

Avoiding Snags in Agile and Incident Retrospectives

Retrospectives, be they Agile- or incident-oriented, can be game-changers in amplifying process enhancements. In their lively discussion, Ken and Lee share valuable nuggets of wisdom on how to turn these sessions from routine gatherings into strategy-loaded discussions.

Stumbling Blocks in Agile Retrospectives

  • Sidestep rants: Encourage productive talk over unhelpful complaints.
  • Stay current: Discuss the recent sprint and avoid rehashing old tales.
  • Dive deep into issues: Understanding is key before jumping to solutions.
  • Promote constructive clashes: Encourage diverse viewpoints, which can lead to unseen insights.

Incident Retrospectives: Not Just a Wrap-Up

Ken points out that incident retrospectives aren’t just about wrapping up the issue. They have a bigger purpose:

  • Post-incident chats: Engage in dialogues to extract learnings following incidents.
  • Defensive strategies: Brainstorm ways to avoid reruns of similar glitches.
  • Real-time watch: Harness live dashboards for continuous surveillance.

Common Oversights in Incident Retrospectives

  • Skimpy data: Without a full data spectrum, pinpointing issues is challenging.
  • Missing the mark on participants: Essential players bring in vital insights.
  • Dodging blame over learning: The focus should be on learning, not finger-pointing.

Best Practices for Insightful Incident Retrospectives

  • Full-spectrum data collection: More data equals more informed decisions.
  • All-inclusivity: Don't leave anyone out who’s connected to the incident.
  • A no-blame zone: Encourage open talk by avoiding the blame game.
  • Lessons over accusations: Encourage a learning mindset.
  • Transparent actions: Clearly chart out the next moves.

Boosting Incident Retrospectives: Handy Tools

  • Root cause analysis: A technique to dig deep into primary issues.
  • Fishbone diagram: A graphical representation to showcase potential mishap triggers.
  • “5 Whys” technique: It's all about exploring the whys behind an issue by repeatedly asking about the causes behind each cause.

Learn from your mistakes

To truly ace your incident retrospectives, you need a balanced blend of sidestepping common blunders, embracing best practices, and having the right toolkit. With these essentials, each hiccup can be a learning experience that only makes you better.

To learn how Blameless’s automatic retrospective tool can help your organization automate incident management and improve enterprise reliability, schedule your personal demo today.

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