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Agile Retrospective: More Than the Happiness Metric

Tom Taylor, 5 minute read

During my Scrum Master Certification training, I was introduced to the Happiness Metric, which is a key tool for insight into team dynamics from Jeff Sutherland, founder of Scrum Inc. (Scrum being a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex products, according to I've found that getting the pulse of a team via a survey can be useful, especially in retrospectives. Working with other Scrum Masters, we’ve tweaked the language of these surveys, re-naming them as Sprint Satisfaction because we're focusing on more than just happiness.

I successfully used this approach at a previous company to collect team feedback in advance of our retrospectives. There, we operated in distributed teams that were evenly split between those in the U.S. and those internationally. The survey allowed for an up-front chance to collect insights from team members with several major benefits:

  • Having the survey's results available in advance made the retrospective more efficient.
  • Because some team members were more reserved or deferential to those who were more outspoken or seen as "leads," the survey gave everyone an equal voice.
  • The survey format also provided an opportunity for anonymity. Respondents could provide feedback without worrying about being identified.
  • As a Scrum Master, I could use the information collected over time to identify trends. I could also use this material when I worked with a team when we conducted a release-level retrospective.

As with anything Agile, we’ve iterated on the approach, but the survey rates a core set of data points and we occasionally use it to collect information through "bonus questions." The following are the core questions included in each Sprint Satisfaction Survey:

Q1: On a scale of 15, please rate your satisfaction during the Sprint on the following:

(1 indicates the lowest, 5 the highest)

  • Your personal contribution to your team
  • Your Scrum team as a whole
  • Collaboration on your Scrum team
  • Collaboration with other teams (the state of your team's backlog)
  • The team's adoption of past scrum improvements
  • Outside of work I feel… (this is something of a benchmark question)

Q2: What, if anything, would get your satisfaction up a notch? (free text response)

Q3: What is one thing you would change during the Sprint? (free text response)

Sometimes, I find comparing the results of the current Sprint to the previous one useful.

This allows for questions like, "What's changed between now and the last Sprint? How can we continue to move forward and change what's necessary?"

One caution: If running these surveys for multiple teams, don't compare one team's happiness to the other.

Here I offer the opening line from Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina":

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

That said, as a Scrum Master and coach, I've learned that the importance of asking yourself what makes for the differences between teams and what, if anything, can be done to share qualities that increase satisfaction levels across teams. My most important finding is that teams tend to be at their most satisfied when they deliver or over-deliver against commitments. Their satisfaction decreases when Sprint commitments aren't met. I also found important keeping track of the narrative of what happened and why during a Sprint because that informed our understanding of the survey results. Numbers by themselves rarely tell the entire story.

Continue the Agile conversation in the PegaBuzz community.

About the Author

With interests like Tai Chi and Stand-up Paddleboarding, Tom’s always been attracted to concepts of flow and balance.  As an Agilist at Pegasystems, Tom applies these interests directly as a Scrum Master with our Engineering teams, and fosters organizational excellence throughout Pega. He is engaged with training and mentoring Scrum and Agile practices with other groups throughout the company. Tom has been a Certified Scrum Master for over 4 years, and is also a certified as an Agile Facilitator/Coach, as well as a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Agilist.

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