Software development teams, no matter the shape or size, should always take the opportunity to reflect on their ways of working. These reflections usually take the form of retrospectives, where you review past actions and activities, draw lessons from them, and apply the lessons to improve team morale and productivity.
The responsibility of conducting a retro typically falls on either a product or engineering manager. Regardless of who ends up running it, it’s important for product managers to understand these kinds of retrospectives and how they can improve the team’s culture, processes, and productivity.
One of the most productive retrospective frameworks is called “Start, Stop, Continue.” When used properly, it can not only help teams eliminate unhelpful practices but also increase productivity and team happiness. Let’s learn more.
Table of contents
- Background information: What is a retrospective?
- What is the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective?
- The advantages of using the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective
- What do you say in a Start, Stop, Continue meeting?
- A step-by-step guide to implementing the Start, Stop, Continue framework
Background information: What is a retrospective?
Before diving into what the Start, Stop, Continue framework is, we should first go over what makes a retrospective. In a nutshell, a retrospective is a team-wide review meeting that usually occurs at the end of a sprint or after shipping a feature.
The purpose of a retrospective is for team members to review, collaboratively, what went right or wrong with their last sprint. It’s a time to discuss if they had concerns regarding certain actions or behaviors and what kinds of improvements they should make, as a team, to not face those issues again.
The hope is that any issues that have been percolating over the last few months are nipped in the bud before they escalate. The overall collaboration, culture, and productivity of the team will hopefully improve as well. Modifying practices will hopefully help the team ship more high-quality features quicker and at a more agile pace.
What is the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective?
As the name suggests, the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective is one of the many retrospectives out there. What makes it unique, however, is its direct approach.
Typically, most retrospectives ask team members to augment their feedback with examples of things they would like to avoid in the future. Doing things this way might take longer, as team members have to come around to the point they are trying to make. This is not a very efficient use of time, especially when retrospectives typically only last for one or two hours.
The Start, Stop, Continue framework avoids this by asking feedback from team members on three different aspects:
- Start — Actions or behaviors that the team should start doing
- Stop — Actions or behaviors that the team should stop doing
- Continue — Actions or behaviors that the team should continue doing
The advantages of using the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective
As we just highlighted, the Start, Stop, Continue framework has a lot of great benefits. Let’s go over the biggest points below:
Direct and to the point
Unlike other retrospectives, the Start, Stop, Continue framework revolves around a direct approach that favors more robust discussion around action points. This differs from other frameworks that ruminate on particular situations that came up before, specifically ones that the team may not be able to draw lessons from since it was so long ago.
By asking the team directly what kind of actions they want to start, stop, or continue, the discussions focus on the tail end of what’s important — the type of behavior the team should express and apply in the future. It also helps with saving all the required time to engage in retrospective discussions.
As we talked about, the questions from the Start, Stop, Continue framework are not only focused on the actions that can be taken now but are also future-oriented. The actions should be implemented immediately and measured to see if they bring the positive change the team wants.
Being future-oriented helps assure the team that decisions made during the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective will be respected and implemented. It also gives each member the confidence to voice their individual concerns.
Outcomes vs. outlines
Finally, Start, Stop, Continue can be used by teams to focus clearly on the outcomes they set out to achieve. This can differ from other retrospective formats that sometimes dwell too much or too deeply into awkward situations that cropped up during the last sprint.
By asking what they should start, stop, or continue doing, the discussion can start to revolve around the outcomes that each team member is looking for rather than wasting time talking about past situations.
What do you say in a Start, Stop, Continue meeting?
Conducting a Start, Stop, Continue retrospective is not just about ensuring the team gets together and lists down suggestions, and then calling it a day. There needs to be space for the team to really hone in on specific actions to undertake, continue, or stop based on their experience with the last sprint.
When thinking about the actions under Start, Stop and Continue, it’s important that team members keep these questions in mind all the time. The questions should prompt team members to constantly think about what might be helpful to start, stop, or continue for the future culture of the team.
Each section has its own questions that each member can think about before listing their suggestions, such as:
- If you could go back in time and start the sprint or initiative all over again, what would you do differently to be more productive?
- What are the actions that we should have done but didn’t to increase productivity or improve team culture?
- Was there anyone whose skills or experiences were not being used to their fullest extent during the last sprint?
- What were the different kinds of issues or bottlenecks that occurred during the last sprint?
- Was there any miscommunications or issues that should be addressed during this retrospective?
- What are the common errors or mistakes the team made that we should note and eliminate from future work?
- What were the actions or practices that went well during the last sprint that we should continue moving forward?
- What communication channels and methods were effective?
- What are the different productivity methods and strategies that seem to be working that we should continue doing more of in the next sprint?
A step-by-step guide to implementing the Start, Stop, Continue framework
The following are the steps to ensure the smooth, effective running of the Start, Stop, Continue retrospective for your team:
- Identify the retrospective mediator at the start of the session — Choose a mediator at the beginning of the session. Ideally, this will either be the product manager, engineering manager, or a recognized unbiased third party among the members of the team
- Clearly identify and communicate the objectives of the session to the team — Be clear and concise about the purpose this session serves. Namely, this means identifying actions and behaviors that the team should start, stop, and continue based on the last sprint
- Start the retrospective — First, ask the team to fill out actions that they would like the team to start doing based on the last sprint. Focus the suggestions on actions that will not only increase productivity and velocity but also improve team culture. Do the same for both the stop and continue parts of the retrospective
- Once all three sections are filled, go through each section one by one — Call out team members along the way to talk about their suggestions and why they think it is important! Ensure that each team member has the time to explain why they listed down the particular actions to start, stop, or continue, and refrain from any judgments
- Vote — After each team member has had the chance to explain their perspective, it’s time to vote. Provide about 3–5 votes for each team member in each section and ask them to vote for each suggestion that the team should adopt
- Record the outcome of the vote and draft up an action plan — Finalize and determine the actions that the team will start, stop, or continue moving forward
Apply the above steps and you’ll be undertaking the Start, Stop, Continue framework for retrospectives like a product manager in no time.
Until next time!
Featured image source: IconScout
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