Essentials & New Ideas for an Effective Sprint Retrospective

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Retrospection is key to understanding and self-awareness. At work, and in life, it’s important to take time to reflect and evaluate our progress, so we can better understand our motivations, our goals and our environment. Scrum, an agile framework for small teams, especially harnesses the benefits of retrospection.

Scrum works under the assumption that customers regularly change their minds about what they want or need. This dynamic environment requires daily meetings, called daily scrums, where team members can collect themselves and ensure that everyone is working together towards the customer’s current needs.

In order to deliver quickly and adapt to changes, scrum teams work in short durations of one month or less called sprints, where a sprint retrospective is held at the end of each sprint. A sprint retrospective is just as it sounds, a time of reflection. But it is more than a mere acknowledgement of what has passed in previous sprints: it offers lessons that provide direction forward.

What Is a Sprint Retrospective?

A sprint retrospective gives the entire team a moment of introspection. They can stop and look back on the sprint, discuss what happened, analyze the way they worked together, identify how it might have been improved and then make plans to implement those improvements in the next sprint.

The sprint retrospective is usually held as the last activity of the sprint. It is a good idea to repeat the sprint retrospective at the same day time and place. They can last for between an hour to three hours, depending on the sprint length.

Who’s Involved?

The entire team is present for the sprint retrospective. That includes the scrum master, the product owner, the development team and everyone who is designing, building and testing the product. Although, it is not unprecedented for the scrum team to seek outside insight and perspectives.

While the sprint retrospective gives everyone involved time to look back on the sprint, it also helps them to identify and agree on a continuous process of improvements that can be turned into actionable tasks in the present and future.

What’s Addressed?

There are three main questions that are asked in the sprint retrospective: What went well during the sprint, what did not go well and what could be improved for better productivity in the next sprint? These questions, and the whole sprint retrospective, are facilitated by the scrum master.

Although those are the primary questions asked in a retrospective, nothing is off the table in terms of what can be talked about, as long as it relates to the overall sprint that just occurred. This is a critical function of the scrum workflow in that it gives the scrum teams an opportunity to fine-tune their behaviors and actions to better serve the product creation.

Related: What Is the Definition of Done for Agile Teams?

The Scrum Master’s Role in a Sprint Retrospective

The scrum master is the person who is facilitating the process of a sprint retrospective. They are there to make sure the team is looking at what happened over the last sprint so they can develop new ways to improve performance in the next.

While a scrum team is self-organized and can pivot quickly as needed, the scrum master helps with the flow of information to make their decisions more effective. Therefore, without a scrum master to help the team, the pathway towards an improvement process can be slow.

sprint retrospective key elements

Key Elements of an Effective Sprint Retrospective

The sprint retrospective has some essentials that are needed to keep it productive.

  • Plan Ahead: Figure out ahead of time how you’re going to run through the sprint retrospective, and make the most of your limited time. Just as a plan is crucial for running a project, it is as important for smaller tasks like this. Without a plan, time is wasted, and less productive work comes out of the sprint retrospective.
  • Engage People: The sooner you engage people, the more likely they attend the meeting with something to say. You can do this by having them read something related to the process, which will peak their interest and bring them to the table with ideas to share.
  • Create a Space: You’ll want to have a dedicated place in which to hold the sprint retrospective, one that is private and open to a free discussion and engagement from the team. That can be a semi-circle of chairs around a whiteboard or something more. If you’re working with distributed teams, consider how to get them to feel like a participant and not a spectator.
  • Have Action Items: This is like an agenda, so you start the sprint retrospective off with something to talk about and a focus to keep the conversation moving in a productive direction. It helps to visually post these action items, so they’re accessible by all involved.
  • Begin with Previous Retrospective Action Items: If you’re not reviewing past action items, then you’re not monitoring the progress on the improvements brought forth in previous sprint retrospectives. Look at them as experiments: what did you try, what were the results and are they worth keeping up with?
  • Don’t Forget to Have Fun: Yes, it’s work, but it doesn’t have to be torturous. The more fun you can inject into the process, the more you’ll get out of it. People are more engaged when they’re having a good time. That doesn’t mean chaos; just remove the heavy, dire nature of many meetings, and remember that you’re all working together for the same goal.

Related: 10 Super Fun Team Bonding Games

Seven New Ideas to Re-energize Your Sprint Retrospective

Scrum is always looking for improvements. It’s not scared of change; it embraces it. With that spirit in mind, let us end with suggestions to improve your sprint retrospective.

  1. Start with an Icebreaker: In order to have teams hit the road running, you want to make sure they’re comfortable with one another. While they might work together, they may have been dedicated to different tasks or possibly working remotely. Therefore, get the ideas flowing by notifying everyone beforehand and offering some simple, icebreakers to get them thinking. They could be one-word answers to simple questions or an emotional gauge to how they feel about the previous sprint.
  2. Have the Previous Sprint Goals and Improvements on Display: Tack them up for all to see to get people started on discussing how these improvements panned out and what goals were and weren’t met. You can analyze the results later, but getting people talking first is going to give a better picture of the process and where it works and where it doesn’t.
  3. Don’t Fall into Routine: This is easier said than done, because if it worked once, you’re likely to revisit it. But routine can be the kiss of death. People lose engagement and productivity is lost. Try a start-and-stop meeting, asking the team what they think they should start doing, stop doing and continue doing. Set up the meeting like an awards show, with best story, most annoying story, etc. There are lots of creative approaches to meetings you can research and apply.
  4. Do a Retrospective of the Retrospective: It doesn’t hurt to put the process under the microscope. Not only will this create a more engaged and less routine-like sprint retrospective, but it’ll provide guidance as to what is working and not working in the process itself. It’s not only the sprint that might require improvements.
  5. Change the Facilitator: Yes, it’s traditional for the scrum master to facilitate the sprint retrospectives, but that doesn’t mean it’s the law. The scrum master will be present to keep things within bounds, but it can really help stir things up and offer new perspectives to have others take the helm.
  6. Start with Why: Another way to get the blood flowing is to question the whole process. Why have a sprint retrospective in the first place? You might get a few who take the bait and agree, but more likely you’ll find people stepping over one another to explain the importance of the process. There’re few better ways to open the retrospective with more genuine engagement.
  7. Get the Taboos on the Table: There are always going to be those who have unspoken concerns or criticisms about the sprint or other aspects of the work. With the assurance of complete confidentiality and no reprisals, have these taboos shared in a silent meeting where everyone is given a sheet of paper in which to write down their biggest unspoken taboo. Now shuffle the papers and pass them out for others to comment on. Let them go all around the room until the original paper returns to its author. Then destroy the papers. It can backfire, but when it hits, the mood is cathartic.

If you’re working in an agile framework with scrum teams and sprints, then you’re constantly in flux and need the anchor of real-time data to help you stay on the right course. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has a real-time dashboard and collaborative online Gantt charts to help teams work through their schedules with autonomy. Try it today with this free 30-day trial.

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