A simple tactic to stop retrospectives becoming BMW sessions

There’s an acronym used within agile circles – BMW.

It’s not this:


but this:

Meditating businessman with arguing colleagues

I’m sure you can spot the scrum master. He is the one in the middle trying to maintain a zen-like state whilst everyone around him is Bitching, Moaning and Whinging (BMW).

Welcome, my friends, to the BMW retrospective.

If you haven’t yet experienced a BMW retrospective, you will! This can be the retrospective from hell if you’re not careful. A 2 hour bitch, moan and whinge fest with no outcomes. Just a load of unhappy people.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons why a team disrupts a retrospective for a good old BMW session. The most common reason I have experienced is frustration.

Where does the frustration come from?

I get frustrated when there is something that hampers me or stops me from achieving something that I perceive to be out of my control.

Think back to a time when you were late for a flight/train/important meeting and whilst driving to the location you get stuck behind some slow moving traffic and there are no passing opportunities. Remember the frustration you felt?

Teams can get equally frustrated when they feel powerless to make changes to improve their situation. Sometimes that frustration builds up like a pressure cooker and is released during a retrospective.

The positive to take from this is that your team feel that the retro is a safe environment.

And now you are aware of their frustrations you can help them to take responsibility for their work concerns, and thus be more proactive, productive and happier.

You have more power than you think

In order to change the dynamic from one of frustration to one of empowerment its important to recognise the things you can change (i.e. have control over); the things you can influence; and the things that you can do nothing about.

There is simply no point in spending any time worrying about the things you cannot change.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey distinguishes between proactive people – who focus on what they can do and can influence – and reactive people who focus their energy on things beyond their control. Reactive people maintain an attitude of victimisation and blame.

This exercise is based on those circles of influence and control and can help your team to move from victim to responsibility.

Try it next time the BMW rolls into town.

The circle of influence exercise