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One of the strengths of the Scrum framework is its commitment to regular and defined team communication. Much of this revolves around the project iterations or Agile Scrum Sprints. Often referred to as a Sprint Retrospective Ceremony (or, more simply, a ‘retro’), it is underpinned by the core principles of the Agile methodology, including continuous improvement and adaptability. The Sprint retrospective takes place following each Sprint, and its primary purpose is to review the performance of the previous Sprint, what items were successful, what could be improved and determine actionable steps for the next upcoming sprint.

 

Table of Contents

 

Learning from Experience

Scrum is an iterative framework that proceeds through a series of Sprints. Each Sprint aims to produce a usable product increment or value. This is then reviewed and re-planned accordingly, going into the next Sprint. Structured communications and Scrum meetings, such as the Sprint Retrospective, are defined within the framework to facilitate this.

Before each Sprint begins, there is a Sprint Planning meeting. This looks at what will be undertaken in the next Sprint based on the Product Roadmap, the Sprint Goal, overall product priorities, remaining items on the Product Backlog and the team’s capacity. As work progresses, there are short Daily Scrum meetings.
At the end of each Sprint, there are two meetings: the Sprint Review and the Sprint Retrospective. The Sprint Review meeting looks at what was produced (based on the planned Sprint Backlog). The Sprint Retrospective examines how these results were achieved, the Teams’ working practices and what could be changed in the next Sprint.

 

Key Objectives and Outputs of a Sprint Retrospective

It is all about making the next outcomes of the project more productive and valuable – and more enjoyable for the team. The core goal of a Sprint Retrospective is to review what worked well and what did not and, ultimately, how to improve subsequent Sprints to meet the project’s goals.

Importantly, unlike the Sprint Review meeting, which focuses on the product and demos of items, the Sprint Retrospective is focused on working processes and improving these for future sprints. As such, there are several key considerations for the meeting:

  • To identify and highlight areas of success within the Sprint so that they can be capitalised on in the future. This may relate to overperformance based on the roadmap or increased value delivery, again focused on working processes. What allowed the teams to be successful? Did they change how they communicated? Did they incorporate a new platform, tool or software? Did the cadence of comms change? And how can we ensure we continue our successes?
  • Conversely to successes, a Sprint Retrospective should also identify and discuss areas that require improvement. This could be bottlenecks that have been experienced during the Sprint. What factors caused these delays? Were they controllable factors, and if so, what steps can be taken to prevent these from occurring in the future? How can these be mitigated for future instances if they were uncontrollable or external factors?
  • Key takeaways/improvements for subsequent sprints. This is core to Agile’s continuous improvement principle. This could be an amendment to the Product Backlog based on the Sprint Review and Retrospective. It could be changes to how development teams communicate with the Product Owner.
  • Fostering collaboration is important during Sprint Retrospectives. They are not designed to assign blame or point fingers. Instead, it is an opportunity for all team members and stakeholders to collaborate to continuously improve their processes and benefit the project as a whole.
  • In terms of outputs from a Sprint Retrospective, these should be focussed on actionable insights. These should be incorporated into the next sprint and all team members should be clear not only on the output itself but also the goal of the output so it can be properly reviewed in the next session. The meeting aims to produce a plan for specific improvements going forward.

 

What does the Sprint Retrospective look at?

The Sprint Retrospective is not about what was achieved in the previous Sprint but how it was achieved. It should focus on what worked well during the Sprint, what did not work so well, and what else the team could be doing. Factors to look at include:

  • Team practices
  • Roles defined
  • Communications
  • Tools and software used
  • The working environment
  • Anything else that team members deem relevant
  • The meeting is a chance for each team member to highlight what they thought worked well in the Sprint and what could be improved

Points raised and actions identified need to be prioritised to allow the team to focus on the ones that will deliver the most value. Further Sprint Retrospective meetings can come back to those that are not actioned for the next Sprint.

 

Key Logistics of a Sprint Retrospective

 

When is the retro held?

The Sprint Retrospective is typically conducted after the Sprint Review, both of which occur at the end of each Sprint cycle. In this way, any insights from the Sprint Review can then be incorporated into the agenda for the Sprint Retrospective.

In a more remote working environment where teams and stakeholders may be spread out across multiple timezones, organising the retrospective can be difficult. As such, the common consensus is that whilst the retrospective following the review is an ideal scenario, there should be flexibility in order to facilitate the meeting. The important point is that both meetings should occur ahead of the next Sprint Planning meeting.

 

Who should attend the meeting?

The Sprint Retrospective is for the whole Sprint Team, including developers, the Product Owner and Scrum Master. Everyone should be given a chance to raise issues that impact their work and deliverables. Points raised should focus on actionable improvements. They should not be based on blaming other team members for problems nor for promoting team members’ own agenda. To support this, the team ensures that they run the Retrospective with The Prime Directive in mind. The Prime Directive is a core concept in Sprint Retrospectives, aiming to promote a solution-focused, positive mindset, foster collaboration, and avoid assigning blame. It simply states that everyone did their best, given the circumstances.

 

How long should the Sprint Retrospective be?

The length of a Sprint Retrospective is often correlated to the length of the sprint. However, common guidance is for the meeting to be scheduled for 1.5 hours for a two-week sprint (45 minutes per sprint week) and should be limited to 3 hours.

 

5 Tips for conducting a successful Sprint Retrospective

Firstly, all team members should have a clear understanding of the Sprint Retrospective’s objectives and outputs to have a successful meeting. However, there are several considerations related to how a retro should be conducted to maximise the impact and value of the meeting.

  1. Create a Safe Environment: Cultivate an atmosphere where team members feel secure expressing their opinions without fear of judgment, promoting open communication. This can lead to better inputs and, therefore, higher value actions.
  2. Be Objective: Emphasise factual observations over personal opinions or blame, ensuring discussions remain constructive and focused. Heavily linked to creating a safe environment, the Sprint Retrospective should facilitate constructive feedback and problem-solving.
  3. Use Retrospective Techniques: Various techniques can be utilised to keep the meetings engaging and effective. These include “Start-Stop-Continue”, “Mad Sad Glad”, and Retrospective games, which can inject variety and value into the discussions through a more informal structure.
  4. Rotate Facilitators: Encourage different team members to take turns facilitating retrospectives, injecting fresh perspectives and contributing to team building.
  5. Follow Through on Action Items: Strongly aligned to the objectives of the retrospective, track and implement action items identified into subsequent sprints, reinforcing the team’s commitment to continuous improvement.

Read our article for further insight into common mistakes to avoid during a sprint retrospective.

The Sprint Retrospective is Essential

The Sprint Retrospective is a mandatory event in the Scrum process that allows the team to reflect on their work and identify ways to improve. It is one of the key hallmarks of Scrum. One of the key benefits of the retrospective is that it helps the team identify and address any issues or problems that may be impacting their work. By regularly reviewing and reflecting on their processes, the team is able to identify areas for improvement and take action to address them.

The underlying focus is on continuous improvement, and the retro provides a forum or ceremony through which teams and stakeholders can have open communication and problem-solving relating to working processes. The fact that the retro is separated from the Review within the Scrum Framework highlights the importance of these meetings and the outputs or changes they help enact.

 

 

Example Sprint Retrospective Agenda/ Template

 

Use the example agenda for a Sprint Retrospective below as a framework upon which to build out your meeting. Make each item specific to your project and product goals for maximum value:

1. Set the Stage:

  • Welcome and Introduction (5 minutes)
  • Recap of Sprint Goals and Achievements (5 minutes)

2. Gather Data:

  • Positive Aspects of the Sprint (10 minutes)
  • Challenges Faced (10 minutes)
  • Notable Achievements (5 minutes)

3. Generate Insights:

  • Group Discussion on Patterns and Trends (15 minutes)
  • Use of Retrospective Techniques (e.g., “What Went Well, What Could Be Better”) (15 minutes)

4. Decide What to Do:

  • Prioritisation of Improvement Items (10 minutes)
  • Action Item Assignment and Ownership (10 minutes)

5. Close the Retrospective:

  • Summary of Key Takeaways (5 minutes)
  • Thank You and Next Steps (5 minutes)

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The Scrum Events

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