Retros From A Hot Tub

This article was published 1 year, 7 months ago. Due to the rapidly evolving nature of web development, some concepts may no longer be applicable.


Many agile teams find themselves in a structured repetition of ceremonies and artifact generation that create little value to the project or team. Often this is repeating the exercises they learned in Scrum or other formal training without a focus on outcomes. I find this approach reaches diminishing returns quickly, and to be honest, it’s boring. My suggestion, grab a case of Tecate and hit the tub.

Ok, I know, Tacate and a hot tub doesn’t fit perfectly into the culture of every organization, or most, or hardly any, but it was the magic for one of my teams and this is how it went down. We had the opportunity to tackle a big problem for an unmentionable Mountain View company. This project involved many trips to MV for weeks of onsite development and collaboration; it was wonderfully exhausting. As agile coach on the project it was my role to facilitate rituals to help the project evolve for the better. This could have involved more meetings during our valuable time on campus, or night or morning get-togethers in the hotel conference room, but wow, that’s hard to write here let alone get people excited about. So you can see where I’m going. Most days would end with a dip in the tub with some brews and vino chatting about what we did that day, what we were thinking for tomorrow, blockers, and things we felt like we could improve on. Sound familiar?

it turned out we only needed a change of environment to keep the problem solving party going

Now I’m not going to pretend that I’m so forward thinking that I knew hot tubs would facilitate retros and standups. I actually thought it would be an opportunity for us to get our minds off the project, wind down and relax, this shit was stressful. However relaxing as it was, our minds just couldn’t stop thinking about the problems we were presented with, we are makers and problem solvers and it turned out we only needed a change of environment to keep the problem solving party going. The unorthodox agile rituals didn’t stop at the tub either. We had a night of reflection and problem solving at a pool hall too that proved to be just as fruitful in terms of insightful outcomes and shared vision.

Some of you might be asking, “where was the product owner in all this?” Well they weren’t in the hot tub, although it wasn’t for lack of an invite. For this project we had limited access to the product owner, not an ideal situation and highly unadvisable. The tub session’s however allowed us to organize our thoughts so that the valuable time we did have with the PO was maximized. I believe trust was gained as well when stories were told of our late nights strategizing around our process and solutions.

In this case the Tecate and the tub were the common denominator for us. I’m confident the same can be found for any team, although remote team members bring the typical challenges. Anything from a picnic, poker party, or just going out for some drinks or ice cream can facilitate the open conversations required to best improve the way your team builds things.

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