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Retrospective Template (What They Are & How To Use One)

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Incident Response
Myra Nizami
Myra Nizami

Wondering about retrospective templates? We give a complete explanation of what a retrospective should include and best practices for using one.

What is a retrospective template?

A retrospective template is a tool for your team to report upon an incident, with details on what happened, what went wrong, and what systemic improvements could be made.

Why are retrospectives important?

Incident management is a stressful process where everyone is working hard to resolve the issue as soon as possible. When focusing on restoring service as quickly as possible, there is often no time to reflect during that process or dig deep into how to prevent the incident from happening again. 

The immediate need is to resolve the issue and ensure customers have the best experience with the solution. However, after the incident is dealt with, a retrospective is a crucial part of the process. A retrospective enables teams to look deeper at their effort and identify areas of improvement for next time. 

But that’s not all. Retrospectives also have value in other ways too. For example, retrospectives are also a useful tool when big projects are completed or even a regularly scheduled revisit of how the team is doing. The ultimate goal of the retrospective is to look back on the work completed and identify where things went well, what didn’t, and where improvement is needed. 

Using the information, teams work together to create and implement solutions. Doing so fosters collaboration among teams while also ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard during the process. The retrospective can serve as a hub for this followup work. Keep track of all the systemic improvements that result from a given incident in the retrospective, and check in with it to make sure people are on track.

The role of retrospective templates

A retrospective is valuable not just in the short-term but also in the long-term. Regular retrospectives enable teams to improve processes and operations while reflecting on the great things they have accomplished. A template helps keep that information organized and standardized and ensures that you’re covering key aspects every time. In addition, it enables teams to have more transparency in the incident response process and allows them to structure their thoughts to get the most value out of the process. 

A retrospective template is also applicable depending on the reason for the retrospective so that teams can include contextual information as needed. For example, a retrospective after a major incident will need a different template to cover detailed aspects of what happened, and the actions taken. 

An annual team retrospective template would look far different from an incident-focused retrospective since it’s a broad overview of what the team has done and how to move forward. So the first step for teams is to identify the purpose of the retrospective and what kind of information is needed to select the right retrospective template.

What are the different types of retrospectives I can do?

There are many types of retrospectives that your team can do, so it’s essential to look for templates that can support that. 

Types of retrospectives could include:

  • Habit building: What are things your team needs to start doing and/or stop doing? What are some things to continue doing? Group ideas together as they come in, and talk about common themes and next steps. Building and putting the spotlight on helpful processes can make team members execute them more naturally.
  • Emotional: Another type of retrospective is to consider emotional health and how that can improve. What are team members upset about, and what are they happy about? How does that change before, during, and after an incident? If team members feel heard and supported, they’ll have psychological safety to continue working at their best.
  • Vision building: How do teams envision their work personally and in the larger context? What is stopping them from achieving that vision, and how can the team move forward as a whole and as individuals?
  • Process: This can work for incident management and other situations where teams come together to identify what works in their current processes and what needs to improve.
  • Incident management: After a major incident, teams can come together to discuss what went well, what didn’t, and what they learned to improve incident management moving forward. Here’s an example of an incident retrospective template.

Because each one is so different, take time out to find the right template and style that works for your team. Then, once you have structures in place for the incidents, you can use tools that populate the necessary information, put together thoughts, and allow team members to feedback and add their thoughts. Tooling is important, as the retrospective shouldn’t feel like a burden or tedious overhead. As much of the retrospective building as possible should be automatic, to allow for easy consistency across every incident.

How to get the most value out of your retrospective

Once you’ve defined why the retrospective is needed and selected a template, it’s time to think about how to structure the session itself. 

The retrospective process will look different from team to team, but some of the key points to bear in mind are:

  • Use visuals where possible to keep teams engaged as much as possible
  • Time each part of the retrospective. It’s easy to get off track, but implementing a time limit will keep things moving along.
  • Run exercises to make the session more dynamic and encourage team member participation
  • Take 5 minutes near the end of the retrospective to define the next steps and outcomes so that team members see value from the process.
  • Set up a system to track followup tasks resulting from the retrospective and ensure they are completed.

You can find additional best practices for running a retrospective in our previous article for deeper insight. You can also find an example postmortem from Google here to see how a leading  organization addresses retrospectives.

How Blameless facilitates retrospectives

For teams striving for continuous improvement, tools like Blameless can prove to be an asset. With Blameless, teams can turn incidents into learnings using built-in templates in the retrospective dashboard.

All information from incidents is easily collected into a centralized source during an incident, and teams can use the data alongside retrospective templates to identify and implement systemic solutions. 

Blameless also enables multiple stakeholders to add contributions to the document, including adding information, asking questions, and more in retrospective feedback forms to create a more dynamic process. As a result, teams can share knowledge, identify solutions, and improve processes in one fell swoop by using Blameless. Sign up for a free trial today.