Free Your MindOne of the problems we had in our last retrospective was we were very much unprepared. Many of us did not have proper notes and worst of all there was a negative mindset toward the whole retrospective process. This time around everyone actively prepared and everyone was onboard with the idea of using the retrospective to improve the way we work. A positive viewpoint really works wonders and resulted in a much higher quality of the discussion :)
Bricks Without ClayAs the famous Sherlock quote goes, you can only put theories together when you have data. This principle holds true for any scientific process, including retrospectives. This is computer science we are dealing with after all!
In our case, data is as simple as our likes and dislikes about our work. However as there is a month between our retrospectives, forgetfulness is a major issue. Ongoing observation is the key here, we all need to constantly seek out analyse the way we work. This can be as simple as jotting down notes on what you feel is good/bad as you work.
Get To The Point
Open ended questions like "what did you like/dislike this month?" are great for getting people to open up but can lead to rambling. In an ideal world you want everyone to distill their feelings beforehand and provide short and sweet summaries. The key is to move beyond raw emotions and use unambiguous statements: "I don't like rambling" is better stated as: "I like people being concise".
Mixing It Up
When undergoing the process of self reflection, it is important to have compare and contrast against others. Trying to view things from an outsider's perspective can throw into light problems/opportunities you would have otherwise missed. In our case, reviewing a piece of code written by an applicant threw up a lot of interesting viewpoints.