Is your team getting value from its Sprint Retro?


Does your team feel like their Sprint Retrospective is a value add activity? I’ve heard from team members that the Retro isn’t a good use of their time, or that its just a checklist item—something that has to be done. Sometimes I observe team members arrive late, or spend time working on their computer or phone, rather than actively participating. If team members aren’t focused, its difficult to have an honest and critical discussion of how to improve the team’s process.

The Sprint Retrospective is time set aside for the team to inspect its own process over the course of the previous Sprint, find areas of opportunity, and discuss improvement ideas. Its the post game show, or the chance to talk about what went well, and what the team should do differently next time. The Scrum team owns its own process and has accountability to incrementally improve.

Generally, I am seeing Retro meetings broken down into three categories—what is going well, what could be improved, and action items. This is a great strategy, and a good way to start the discussion. There are plenty of facilitation techniques and activities designed to make the session more engaging or active for everyone.

Some tips for a successful Sprint Retrospective

Get out of the team space

Find a conference room where its easier to focus on the discussion. Get the team out of the everyday workspace and have a safe and healthy conversation.

Follow up from the last Sprint Retrospective!

How did the changes discussed during the last Retrospective work out? Did the change improve the team’s process or not? Did the team follow through? The action item owner should share the results and recommend if the change should continue, or be dropped.

What is going well?

This is an opportunity to celebrate successes, highlight steps in the process that are an improvement over last time, and showcase team members that helped the Sprint succeed.

What could be improved?

OK, so this is really the reason we got together, right? Let’s hear it—where can we improve as a team? Let’s talk about how we do our work. Where did we drop the ball? This is what I’ve been discussing with my team lately. I don’t know if the team is really talking about what matters in the Sprint Retrospective. I know it can be difficult to bring up critical feedback, but after all, its your team—if not now, then when would we discuss what we could do better? Its OK to share common frustrations; but its also important to refocus the conversation back on the team’s internal process, rather than things that are external or outside the team’s control. Yes, the team can have external action items that the Scrum Master can champion and work with other groups, but the goal is to improve the team first.

If its hard to get the discussion moving on what could be improved, there a few good places to start:

  • Did the team complete the amount of points committed for the Sprint?
  • Was there a defect or error in the work produced? Root cause analysis (RCA) can help get to the process step that should be inspected and improved.
  • Was there wait time or down time in the overall process?
  • Did we have too much work in progress, preventing the team from finishing work?
  • Did work get stuck or blocked?
  • Did the Product Owner accept the work as it was produced at the end of the Sprint, or in the Show and Tell meeting?

Be vulnerable. Be honest. Try new things. After all, the Sprint is time-boxed, maybe its two weeks or four, but its a period of time to try something new, and discuss to see if the change helped or not. If team members are attending communities of practice, or peer workgroups, maybe there are some ideas or best practices shared that this team could try as well.

Some of the facilitation techniques out there for Retrospectives, as well as elicitation sessions, involve anonymizing feedback. Using affinity diagrams with note cards works particularly well to generate ideas and categorize them into discussion topics. This way the team can quickly dive into what is most important, and begin to discuss solutions.

Action items!

Each action that comes out of the improvement discussion should be captured, with an assigned owner or champion. Its appropriate to track the action item on the card wall or in some other way, as well as being discussed in the daily stand up. At the end of the day, the goal is to improve. Change is hard! The action item owner should be talking about it at stand up and working with team members to make sure it sticks. The only way to get better is to make changes; the best way to get better is to make many small changes and see the effect each has. If something isn’t working, just stop, talk about it, and move on. Retrospectives at the end of each Sprint give us a time to do that.

Use Scrum Retrospective concepts to have better one-on-one meetings with your manager.