The retrospective meeting is a crucial part of the Scrum framework. Its goal is to ensure that the process used is reviewed after every sprint and the team never stops improving. But how can you ensure your retrospective that achieves this goal?

Last week, Ramon Alves published a great article on why skipping the retro is damaging to a team's ability to work effectively. Which got me thinking: what are some ways to make the most of your retrospective and ensure that it's productive for the entire team? And further, what does a great retrospective look like?

According to the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Retrospective is a 3 hour time-boxed meeting for a one month Sprint. The Guide even says that the whole Scrum Team should participate in this meeting and that the process of the sprint should be reviewed. What the Scrum Guide doesn't say is how to do a retrospective. Because if the whole team just sits for 3 hours in the same room and stares at each other, the process will not improve, right? And if we spend 3 hours pointing out the mistakes that each person made we will probably get nowhere. So what should we do?

Break the ice

Some people go to the retrospective meeting feeling very nervous. Maybe they are expecting people to talk about them. Or maybe they've been waiting for the chance to talk about someone else's mistakes. Not a great idea! Other people are just too shy to talk, so they will let the others talk for them. These kinds of situations could break down the entire retrospective and make the meeting worthless. Therefore a good idea is to start the meeting with some game or activity to break the ice. You could use the help of a website such as Tasty Cupcakes to plan something cool. Remember! Make people feel comfortable joining in the discussion, and remind them that they are part of a team that wants to improve.

Asking the right questions

After everyone is feeling comfortable enough to talk and knows what they are going to talk about, it's time to begin focusing on the process. At this point, it's a good idea to facilitate the discussion with the help of a few key questions. Feel free to ask the questions in several different ways to get a deeper understanding.

  • What went well?
  • What can be improved?
  • How we can improve?

All you need to do is figure out what is the best way to ask these questions of your team.

Don't focus on personal mistakes

During the retrospective, the team should avoid speaking directly to or about specific members. This kind of situation will only serve to damage the team's cohesiveness and cause it break down into factions.

Remember that if one person fails, the whole team fails! Mistakes belong to the entire team, and the team should focus on overcoming them together.

Talk about the general process and use we/us pronouns to talk about what needs to improve. This will help circumvent tendencies to attack or blame individuals.

Create a list of action items

Finding and understand a problem is 50% of solving the problem. But remember that the other 50% is acting!

After you define what needs to improve, remember to discuss concrete actions that the team can take to improve. Use verbs to describe those actions and be sure to pinpoint action items that are reasonable for the team to accomplish within the next sprint.

For example:
If the team needs to improve its communication, the action item could be sitting closer to each other or using a new communication tool with better user experience.

Vote on the most important issues

On teams where people are comfortable speaking their minds, many ideas for improvement are typically raised during the retrospective. Since it's impossible to work on everything at the same time, many teams choose to vote on the items that are the highest priority and commit to working on them in the next sprint. Dot voting is a common method that works well due to its simplicity - let's say each team member has three votes. The items for consideration can each be written on a post-it, and team members vote to prioritize particular items by marking the post-it with a dot. Then, items are ranked by the total number of dots, and the highest ranking items are prioritized first. But don't let the other points fall to the wayside! They are still important and worth consideration. Instead, keep them in your "backlog of improvements" and revisit them once the team has bandwidth for more commitments.

Revisit the Retro

After completing a retrospective and selecting the actions items for the sprint, you can begin the next work cycle. Inevitably, this will be followed by another retrospective.

On the next retro always remember to talk about the last discussion. Come back to the points you committed to improving and the action items you created and talk about how much improvement you saw since the last cycle. Is it time to create new action items? Or do the older items still need work?

Retrospectives are one of the most powerful tools of Scrum. As Agile practitioners we can never settle - there is always room to improve, and the retro is the perfect time to pinpoint how. So plan your retrospective carefully and make the most of this critically important meeting.


Pedro Colen

I love marketing and project management, but my great passion are Agile Methodologies so I try to apply them to my daily life because I think they are like ketchup, goes well with everything!

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