Continue. Stop. Start.

Start - Stop - Continue is a common way to drive your retrospectives or even your growth. At the end of the sprint, you think about what else we should do, what we should stop doing and what worked well and we should continue. At your performance review, you might wonder what you should start doing to get a promotion, what is blocking you and what are your strengths. It is an excellent structure that is very actionable, motivational and straightforward.

In most of the examples, blog posts or book, everyone starts from Start, going through Stop and finishing on Continue. You usually kick off such session, motivated and energised with a head full of ideas of what else we could be doing. Everyone has different opinions, everyone has different experiences, and everyone wants to experiment and share. Even if you think in this format about your growth, you will ask unconsciously first ask yourself - what else should I do to become a senior engineer? What else should I do to get director role? You want to take actions, invest and get a profit.

Start. Stop. Continue. order is broken

The problem with this structure is that the order is broken. The best sessions should start from Continue, through Stop, finishing on Start.

Continue shows what the team or you are doing best. What is the real foundation of your success and highlights the things that are deep in the culture of your organization? To grow sustainably, either as a team or a career, you need to have strong foundations, and you need to keep focused on them. Start from this section to align everyone with what we are doing great, what is essential and what we can’t trade off when under pressure.

Stop highlights the things that are blocking your full potential that you might not even be aware of. What if to ship your current big project you don’t need to start coding twice as fast (what would be impossible) but stop accepting invites to all these meetings that are less important right now? What if to get promoted to senior, you don’t have to start mentoring another junior member of your team and stop doing that to have more time? Sometimes you might think that there is nothing to stop and that everything is essential. Well, almost always it’s not true. Go through as many things as you can that your team or you are doing and challenge everything.

Start is the thing that usually you would start with, but I recommend to go with as last part because every new point in Start column means that you need to trade something off. What would you stop for starting this particular thing? How does it impact your continue column, the foundations of your success? Starting something new is an excellent way to learn. Be open to new things, but question if from all the things you can do, this particular is the most impactful.

How to balance actions and make trade-offs.

Almost always when there is a point in Start column, it means that something needs to be traded off. It’s vital to make a conscious decision where will you distract yourself or what will you stop doing. It’s tempting to say that you can fit this one more thing into your schedule but you should make sure that you understand the consequences.

Start with expectations

To make informed trade-offs you need to clearly understand expectations, both for your team and your career. What are the definitions of your current and next role? What does the organisation expect from your team? What do team members expect from the team? If you can’t answer these questions, the whole exercise is biased and almost convicted of failure. It will be driven only by current week mood and situations, without long-term objective.

Focus on impact

What is the most impactful thing for the team according to expectations? If thinking about personal goals, what is the most impactful thing to focus on for your career? You can do thousand small things that won’t give you as much progress as one key project. Look for opportunities, look for impact and make sure to avoid busy work.

Summary

Overall, Start-Stop-Continue is an excellent way to think retrospectively and of course not the only one. However, when choosing this particular structure, remember about proper order and make sure that everyone is aligned on what the buckets mean. Never underestimate Continue - this is the real thing to understand.