When health is concerned, preventing issues altogether is often easier than treating them once they manifest. The same can be said for retrospectives:
“In retrospectives we often make up for the fact that we didn’t have a liftoff”
Either Deborah Hartmann Preuss or Steve Holyer said that in a conversation and it rings true. Very few teams get a proper liftoff and they lose weeks and months of productivity to initial friction. In contrast, a proper liftoff sets up a team for success by laying a solid foundation of agreements and shared understandings. Then the team doesn’t have to spend their retrospectives patching up problems that could have been avoided.
What are liftoffs exactly?
You might know them as kickoffs, jump starts, launches or project starts – a meeting at the beginning of a team coming together and / or starting to work on something. I’m going with the name “liftoff” because of the book by the same name written by Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies.
A huge chunk of “Liftoff” describes Agile Chartering as a way to clarify purpose, alignment and context of the team and work. Srinath Ramakrishnan summarises it like this:
“Agile chartering is a lightweight minimum documentation approach to creating initial understandings, agreements and alignment about the work and how it will be accomplished.”
A liftoff is a longer event, lasting from a day up to a week. All the necessary people take part, i.e. the team, the project sponsor and whoever else is needed to provide context and insights. Many liftoffs are also off-site which improves focus.
If you forgo a liftoff you often spend a lot of retrospectives on clarifying things that should have been clear from the get go. Of course, there are retro activities that can help, such as:
But you try to compensate for a lack of alignment in short stretches of time and typically with crucial people & their knowledge missing. You really wanna do liftoffs, trust me. Your retros will go a lot smoother.
So, what if you missed the start? The project is already underway and you find yourself with a team patching up cracks in the foundation instead of “clicking”? Well, it’s never too late to reboot with a mid-project liftoff to (re)gain footing.
Check out “Liftoff” for details on how to run one 🙂
PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books