Why Your Business Needs to Start Conducting Business Retrospectives Now

Retrospectives are traditionally well-used techniques to anchor continuous improvement for an essentially stable and agile development environment. In contrast to the original application, industries have elevated them to a stabilizing function, for both step-function improvement and a continuous improvement methodology for the whole business operating in highly dynamic and agile development environments with unknown stability. With a strong methodology background, we develop insights from surfaced observations, deduct problems from insights, and perform root-cause analysis on problems resulting in a continuous improvement prioritization to create an agile development environment.

Operational Agility as Coping Strategy for the Crisis

A new, impressively powerful study conducted by The Economist reveals insights into the global economy. This study, “First Global Business Barometer” compiles data from 2,700 private sector executives from 118 countries, gauging their outlook of the global economy for the next three months. And not very surprisingly, this global economic outlook is very pessimistic (-39 on a scale from -50 to +50).

Despite certain industries, retail and technology for example, which try to gain market share, the majority of organizations plan to increase operational effectiveness and organizational agility. These organizations recognize that they want and need to sense and adapt to changing market situations much more rapidly and more frequently, specifically in the following areas:

  • Strengthening the ability to adapt organizational agility without sacrificing productivity
  • Tackling huge gaps between increasing costs and decreasing productivity
  • Orchestrating islands of automation and driving coverage along all business processes, not just IT

These concepts are not new for either IT or business stakeholders. Still, the above concepts of organizational agility, gap addressal, and orchestration ultimately aim to bridge gaps between business, development, and operations. They are crucial for an effective, sense-and-adapt organization.

Financial Performance Demands Operational Agility as the Answer to Stagnating Revenue Streams

I believe that these areas are compelling and crucial to rescue financial performance. Otherwise, stagnating revenue streams will dilute them. In times when “scaling the enterprise” down and up again is the norm, operational agility is a necessity. However, one myth needs to be cleared up—this does not mean that your tasked workforce will work more. It means people will work smarter, be better integrated, and prioritize work valued the highest. By transforming one of our clients in the financial services industry over three years―we helped them become more agile and could prioritize better―they could free up $51 million of their $151 million technology budget while increasing business outcomes and employee satisfaction. They were proud that we were “helping optimize and focus, and able to see business work that can be stopped or deferred… from strategy to execution.”

While technological change is progressing exponentially, corporate culture changes gradually. Over the last decade, our team at Enterprise Studio has helped several hundred corporations to establish and sustain continuous improvement along their major value streams. As a deliberate approach, continuous improvement drives cultural, process-driven, and technological change by starting from where you are today.

Hitting Rock-Bottom as a Tipping Point for Generating Momentum

One of the pioneers in leadership, Peter Drucker, said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Hitting rock-bottom is a perfect tipping point for getting momentum on new ways of working, which fully supports Harvard Business School professor John Kotter’s eight-step framework: The sense of urgency for change is there and just needs to be made visible. The leadership team needs to act as a guiding coalition, participating and contributing to a business retrospective, which develops a clear vision for change and shares that with the organization. Then the critical steps of communicating to the corporation and empowering people to act on the vision to create short-term-wins can be scaled in the enterprise.

Change Needs to Come From the Inside and Supported From the Outside

Confirming and undermining the sense of urgency can clearly come from outside the organization―an objective (and external) point of view, a blameless approach, and a tone encouraging improvements in a "safe environment" are critical elements.

Next to a strong methodology backing of the facilitator, business retrospectives demand for ad-hoc advisory estimations on expected effectiveness of deducted improvement areas.

Intense depth and breadth of knowledge along the operational value stream as well as the software development value stream are required. There is nothing more discouraging than a leadership team coming out of a planning meeting with a backlog full of non-tangible or ill-suited recommendations.