Muri, Kaizen & Retros

When do you most need a retro?

When you feel as though you don’t have the time for it.


In lean, the feeling of stress (or the impossibility of your task) is called “Muri”. It should serve as a powerful indicator that something is terribly wrong. If you feel this as a member of the team, it is your duty to stop what you’re doing (pull the metaphorical andon cord) and have a serious conversation. In common agile parlance, that is a retro, but it could just as easily be called kaizen.

There may be many reasons for such a feeling. Perhaps your deadline is unreasonable with the current scope. Perhaps you are trying to centralize something on a small team that cannot support the load being put upon them. Perhaps you feel like you’ve nearly solved a problem, but have felt the same way for days and the solution continues to be elusive.


Just as your problems don’t nicely conform to a script such as “what went well” and “what didn’t”, your retro does not need to be so narrow. Be willing to reflect on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, how you feel, and “why”.

Be willing to have an open conversation about all these topics whenever necessary. Problems may not always arise on a two-week schedule and if they can be solved sooner then everyone is better off.

Remember that the retro is also about finding solutions (or starting toward them). If you consistently talk about the same issues but take no action, that can be a source of muri!

Beware of Justification

Metrics and intrinsic motivation can deceive you. Your desire to “just finish it” can undermine your long term success. Your drive to do things “this way” despite lacking the time or team can make you sound like a victim. Don’t allow these justifications to enable muri.

Listen to how you feel. If you feel that something is wrong, you may be telling yourself something your brain cannot yet comprehend.

When tackling problems, be careful of “solutions” that justify your stress or avoid unpleasant conversations. You must be willing to accept the possibility that your perspective may be ill suited to this specific context. You must be comfortable being uncomfortable so that you can engage in the conversations that must be had.

A great many problems can be solved by merely achieving a common understanding. Conversations, especially those that are unpleasant, can be the best tools in achieving this.

Mirages & Solutions

The solution may not be to bring in more people help the project get back on track. That can make things worse. You may be better off having the hard conversation about scope or dates. At the least, this can help you understand the relative costs of delay between the deliverables so that wise trade offs can be made.

The solution may not be to expand the centralized team substantially so that they can manage all deployments for an enterprise. You may not want to staff a team of release engineers like a call center so that every deployment request can be handled quickly. You may be better off having the centralized team act as consultants to the de-centralized doers rather than doing the work themselves. This can empower the team and accelerate the progress they were aspiring to.

The solution may not be to hire a consultant to solve the problem for you. Rather, all the talent you need is probably already there and you simply need to discover how to find it. This does not inspire confidence quite like rented credentials, but it gives you a chance to better learn about the team, it gives someone a chance to showcase their ability, and it gives someone within your team a growing and learning opportunity that you had been giving to the consultant.

When do you most need a retro?

When you feel a pit in your stomach whenever you think about it. When you cannot find the time due to the amount of work that needs to be done. When you’re dreading the conversation and just want to avoid it. When you’ve tried a dozen quick fixes and none of them have fixed it.

These aren’t signs to delay.

These are signs at you’ve delayed too long.

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