The Self Retrospective

TL;DR: I don’t do 1-1s with my manager so I do them with myself instead, usually while crying at my desk or banging my head against it. Some things never change, eh? Tips at the bottom!

(If you haven’t read much of my blog before, you should know that crying at my desk is just my neutral state of being and has been for years, so there is no new cause for alarm.)

((This is part of why I love working remotely, because then you get to take your laptop to bed and cry at your desk, in your bed. It’s quite excellent if you haven’t tried it already.))

As with most of my posts, this is mainly faff about my own experiences – if you want to, you can skip to the last section titled ‘Wrap up’, which has information you might find more usable. 😀 Otherwise, feel free to read lots of detail about my own self-retros, which are included comeplete and uncensored. I think it’s becoming part of my personal brand to share way too much of what happens in my head. DM for my mother’s maiden name, yeah?

What’s a self retrospective?

First off, just in case, what is a retrospective?

It’s a ceremony typically done in scrum teams to look back over what you’ve done so far, gather insights, and see how you can improve in the future. You can also do this as an individual human beanling, especially if you have goals you’re trying to work towards. That’s what a self-retro is!

Your self retro will look different depending on what you want to get out of it, as well as your personal style – it’s a personal retro just for you, after all. Here is an example from Chris Armstrong’s blog, which is very different to my own. Chris wrote out a bunch of specific questions he wanted to answer for himself then set about doing that. Mine are a bit more loose, using columns in Trello, but basically what I’m trying to say is they can take whatever format you want. Mindmap? Yes. Questionnaire? Yes. Columns? Yes. Sculpture? Heck yes, also please send me photos when you’re done.

Why I do self retrospectives

As is my motivation for pretty much everything else, I want to learn. Not just stuff like “write code using X” or “run planning sessions” or “how to draw system architecture diagrams”, but everything. How to better interact with humans, how to deal with stress and how my behaviour affects the people around me. How to move forwards with that whole ‘career’ thing.

I started a new job during lockdown, and though they’re all lovely wonderful people, trying to make them connect with me when they’ve got their own life upheavals going on has been like pulling teeth from a closed mouth. It’s no surprise that I’ve been feeling isolated from the team, and it’s so difficult to get a read on how well or badly I’m doing. I don’t have faith that my failures will be brought up with me, and I have very little emotional energy to force myself to believe that everything is okay.

This is all stuff I’d bring up in a 1-1, but I have somehow landed myself once again in the position where my manager does not want to be a manager. Which is fine because I really like him anyway, but it leaves me with a gap to fill in terms of building my confidence and skillset, and working out goals for improving.

Basically, my motivation was this: if I’m going to be beating myself up anyway, I might as well add some structure to the process!

First self-retrospective – 1 month into job

I set up my first self-retro because I realised that I’d been at my new job for an entire month and I felt directionless. I needed to define what I cared about, and then see how I was doing at those things. For this purpose I made a Trello board! Quelle surprise.

I set up the board with a pretty standard retrospective format – things that are good and bad now, and things that are potentially good and bad in the future. I called these Good, Bad, Hope, and Fear. There’s also an Actions jobby that I filled out afterwards based on the insights generated from those four columns.

In order to define what I cared about, and set some context for the retro, I made a bunch of labels to stick on individual cards, and those were:

  • Code Things
  • Brand and Community
  • Team Integration
  • Learning Goals
  • Career Goals
  • Burnout Avoidance
Screenshot of my first retrospective board, the contents are broken down in the blog body below

Good

  • (Code Things) Wrote some Java and it was fine
  • (Learning Goals) I feel like I gained some better insight into the product
  • (Team Integration) Had some great conversations with scrum master
  • (Brand and Community) Did a lightning talk online
  • (Learning Goals) (Career Goals) Amazing chats with people in the testing community
  • (Learning Goals) (Brand and Community) Saw all of Online Test Conference

Bad

  • (Learning Goals) Felt lost a lot, dependent on others to give me tasks
  • (Brand and Community) Still haven’t published another blog post
  • (Learning Goals) (Brand and Community) Missed loads more talks/events than I wanted to
  • (Team Integration) I sometimes jumped to conclusions about motives, actions and opinions of others

Hope

  • (Learning Goals) To finish reading The Phoenix Project xD
  • (Team Integration) To help take pressure off the rest of the team

Fear

  • (Team Integration) Am I being a nuisance or stepping on toes?
  • (Team Integration) Am I even needed? Do I need to be needed?
  • (Learning Goals) My manager doesn’t want to be a manager. Everywhere I go, this happens xD Ah well. One day it will be me muwahahahah
  • (Team Integration) Are people asking me to do retros, demos etc because they feel sorry I’m so shit at everything else?
  • (Team Integration) Am I annoying for trying to run social events and doing HR Culture Club things?

Actions

  • (Learning Goals) 1-1 options
  • (Brand and Community) Write a bloody blog post you loser

Summary

Looking over that retrospective really helped me to see where my bad feelings were coming from. I thought I was feeling rubbish because I wasn’t good enough for the role I had stepped into – but four of the five fears I stated were to do with team integration, not my ability to learn new languages and tools.

I felt very deeply that I couldn’t connect with my colleagues, for a multitude of reasons. I never met them before joining the company, apart from my manager who I’d spoken to at meet-ups. Most of them were just trying to cope with working from home suddenly, and having families/children/mental health things to cope with in their work days. Although they were friendly, they didn’t have the capacity to reach out and make friends: and as a result, I felt isolated. No one talked to me unless we were in a meeting or they had work-related information to give. We had one video call a week, and the rest was all voice. We had no social calls or activities. I was alone at my desk, in an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar, unreachable people.

Illustration of me sitting at my desk as rain falls on my head
(Bruce softly sings Celine Dion’s All By Myself into your ear as you gaze at this lonely, lonely image)

All of my other struggles were amplified by this. When I was fighting to get the project set up, I felt alone. When I was working out the structure of this massive test automation project written in a language and toolset I was unfamiliar with, using an IDE I had never used before, I felt alone. When I saw builds and chromatic reviews go up in slack channels, the context for which were completely missing, I felt alone. When I looked at the Jira board and couldn’t make heads nor tails of the way it was set up, I felt alone. All of those things were problems in their own right, but if I’d been able to see people’s faces, bring in biscuits and cakes as bribes, or felt welcome to chat and make friends, then I would not have felt that I had to sort it all out by myself.

Or more likely I would have, and someone would have seen and stopped me from getting so stuck in my own head. xD

Second self-retrospective – ~6 months into job

So! Five months later (ish) I have moved from testing a fairly simple dashboard feature, to a more complex new product. I decided to do another retro to see how I think my time on the dashboard project went, and how I feel things are going now that I’ve been working at the company for almost six months.

Screenshot of my second retrospective board, the contents are broken down in the blog body

Good

  • (Code Things) (Career Goals) I have learnt like so blinkin much around java, cucumber, selenium
  • (Burnout Avoidance) I mostly kept to 8h a day, apart from when really needed
  • (Brand and Community) Personal Brand AMA
  • (Team Integration) (Burnout Avoidance) Made friends with Graeme and Teri, feel less isolated
  • (Learning Goals) (Career Goals) Vaguely confident that I’m learning and moving forwards
  • (Team Integration) People have been showing up to the Thursday calls
  • (Brand and Community) Was a speaker on a panel about blogging in tech, which went well
  • (Brand and Community) Blog post on being NB in tech was my most viewed so far
  • (Brand and Community) Logo for Danny was liked 😀

Bad

  • (Code Things) (Burnout Avoidance) Bloody localisation
  • (Burnout Avoidance) My capacity for general life is super low, struggling to want to learn new things or get into stuff
  • (Career Goals) Only had one 1-1 in six months
  • (Team Integration) Culture Club a bit of a dud in terms of making friends
  • (Learning Goals) (Brand and Community) Not showing up to meetups
  • (Brand and Community) Not writing on my blog a lot
  • (Team Integration) Feeling very out of place; not sure I’m a good fit for company
  • (Team Integration) Left stuff badly on Analytics with 456
  • (Learning Goals) (Team Integration) Not enough dedication to learning Russian

Hope

  • (Learning Goals) That I can be more useful, quicker on this project
  • (Team Integration) That I will make more friends across the team
  • (Burnout Avoidance) Fewer bouts of crying at desk

Fear

  • (Team Integration) I don’t know if I’ll ever fit in
  • (Team Integration) All the people saying nice things about me will realise I’m a bit pants
  • (Brand and Community) I will continue to lose out on stuff going on in the community due to low life energies
  • (Burnout Avoidance) Second wave going to bring more isolation for longer, and winter blues will only make me more miserable xD

Actions

  • (Learning Goals) (Career Goals) Ask Shey to do 1-1s with me if he has time (Author’s note: I did not do this, so hi Shey will you do 1-1s with me if you have the time kthxbye)(Literally on a video call with Shey as I typed that, but this is funnier)
  • (Learning Goals) Be proactive in searching for information and asking questions
  • (Team Integration) Pay attention real good in all ceremonies
  • (Burnout Avoidance) Leave the flat at least once a day
  • (Code Things) (Learning Goals) Continue with Java course
  • (Learning Goals) (Brand and Community) See if work will pay for MOT Pro membership so I can use resources and go to the online conferences

Summary

I wrote a lot more for this one, both good and bad. A lot of great stuff happened outside of work, in terms of participation in the testing community and making myself better known. I also felt that I’d made progress at work, and finally made some friends. I am The Social One, and organise beverage calls every second Thursday. Regardless, the Team Integration label still came up a lot in the Bad and Fear columns. Outside of my few friends, I feel very out of place. I’m a blue-haired chatty little bean in a world of people who just wanna do their jobs and leave. I should probably just want to do my job too, but shh.

This retro helped me realise that a big problem now is in my own attitude. I left my old workplace because I was feeling emotionally burnt out and directionless, and I needed a change and some focus. Thanks to other – waves hands at the world in general – circumstances, I never got out of that funk. I don’t concentrate well, I don’t have a lot of desire to learn or pick up tasks, and I have been the opposite of proactive. So my biggest task for the coming months is to become more proactive, whatever it takes!

Since the self-retro, I’ve been taking public notes during meetings and ceremonies to make sure I’m fully paying attention. I’ve been speaking up more in standups and blockers calls, especially when I don’t think I’m being productive. This morning during blockers, I said “I am blocking myself.” I think they thought I was joking, because I do joke around a lot, but it was important for me to say it out loud and hold myself accountable for my own procrastination.

Wrap Up

So this has just been just me telling you about me! That’s what this blog is for, though. It’s not about you, you terrible people who probably came here to learn some things. No lessons for you!! Shoo! Away with you!

Okay, fine.

If you want to do self-retrospectives, then here’s what you should probably work out some of the following stuff. (Or not. Really honestly, this is all about you, so you do whatever you want to do.)

What you wanna find out about yourself

Why do you want to do a self-retro? What do you want to gather insights about? Do you want to find out:

  • where the gaps are in your skillset?
  • why you feel so rubbish at work right now?
  • how you’re progressing towards a particular goal?
  • what your goals should even be?
  • who you need to talk with to move forwards?

Your retrospective is going to look different depending on what you want to get out of it. Decide what you want to know, and then get digging!

What method works best for you

I like columns because I find orderliness pleasing, so sprawling mindmaps and stuff like that just confuse me when I make or read them. My favourites are not the only or even the best type of retrospective though! You could:

  • Put post-its on your bedroom/office wall
  • Use a (free) online whiteboard tool such as Miro or MetroRetro
  • Use a (free) online columns-style tool such as FunRetro or Trello
  • Draw a mindmap
  • Write out a list of questions you want to answer, then answer them
  • Create an interpretive dance routine about your experiences and feelings
  • Make a sculpture out of all the snack wrappers on your desk
  • Walk to a field or park, or drive around in your car, and shout about stuff for an hour
  • Just shout out your window
  • Do a group self-retro alongside other people you like/dislike/trust, helping each other with love and support and honest insights
Illustration of me building a snotty version of myself out of clay
A work of art

Other logistics

You will probably need to set aside time to do this. Don’t leave it open-ended, run it like you would a meeting. Put it in your calendar if you need to, but set aside 30 minutes or an hour, or however long you need, to do this. Start and finish it in that time.

As with other retrospectives, I really like and recommend separating into three phases:

  1. Setting the scene. Write down in one sentence what you want to get from the retrospective, just to remind yourself so you stay on task. Keep that in sight the whole time.
  2. Gathering insights. This is where you sprawl all your thoughts out, or tie those Jammie Dodger wrappers together to symbolise the unity you want to see inside yourself, or shout at which ever patch of grass in the park has offended you most. Put it all out there.
  3. Actions. Look at what you’ve made, and spend a little while deciding on what you need to do next, based on what you wrote/made/screamed during the retrospective.

Hahahahaha look at that, maybe it’s useful, maybe it’s not. I’ve sneakily put it at the bottom of the post though, so you still have to read all about meeeeeee before getting to it. xD

1 thought on “The Self Retrospective”

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