I recently encountered a Product Owner who had been doing an excellent job in his role, but who pushed back on taking time to do a retrospective at the end of a sprint. He said, “We have momentum and we’re making progress. Why would we possibly want to stop and waste time doing this now?”
Steven Covey tells the following story in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”:
There’s a guy who stumbled into a lumberjack in the mountains. The man stops to observe the lumberjack, watching him feverishly sawing at this very large tree. He noticed that the lumberjack was working up a sweat, sawing and sawing, yet going nowhere. The bystander noticed that the saw the lumberjack was using was about as sharp as a butter knife. So, he says to the lumberjack, “Excuse me Mr. Lumberjack, but I couldn’t help noticing how hard you are working on that tree, but going nowhere.” The lumberjack replies with sweat dripping off of his brow, “Yes…I know. This tree seems to be giving me some trouble.” The bystander replies and says, “But Mr. Lumberjack, your saw is so dull that it couldn’t possibly cut through anything.” “I know”, says the lumberjack, “but I am too busy sawing to take time to sharpen my saw.”
In the spirit of continuous improvement, we don’t want to do unproductive and useless things. Within a sprint, team members are empowered to fix tasks that aren’t working, or eliminate tasks that don’t add value. The restrospective at the end of a sprint provides a way for the team as a whole to see things that individuals may not see by themselves. So if you notice the saw getting dull, stop and sharpen it now, don’t wait. And If you don’t happen to notice the saw getting dull, but knowing that saws tend do get dull with use, stop every once and a while and check for dull blades.