Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The importance thing is not to stop questioning.
— Albert Einstein
Why we need a retrospective meeting
The retrospective is usually held right after the sprint demo. Many teams don't understand the real reason for having a retrospective at the end of every sprint. But among other Scrum ceremonies, the retrospective is one of the key ceremonies that has to be right. Scrum, which is a widely used Agile framework, demands that you uphold five core values: focus, courage, openness, commitment, and respect. The fundamental expectation is that Scrum teams will inspect and adapt while demonstrating core values as a team. So your retrospective is the opportunity for the team to reflect on what has happened and figure out what worked well and what was problematic, then take actions accordingly.
Let's have a look at a few best practices that you can adopt in order to conduct your next retrospective more effectively.
- As the ScrumMaster, set the right tone and environment for a great retrospective. The ScrumMaster reminds the team about the purpose, Scrum values, and expected output. The retrospective helps you inspect your current sprint and then adapt and continuously improve.
- Before you jump into the discussion, "check in" first. This allows you to connect with the team. Once you know that someone has a concern, note it, be flexible, and adjust your course of action. More important, know whether anything is distracting your team members. Simply ask everyone to check in by answering the following two questions:
- How are you feeling right now?
- Any distractions in this meeting?
- Remember that your team has introverts and extroverts. Use brainstorming techniques to encourage everyone to participate. I mostly use the following approaches together:
- Round-robin brainstorming. The team contributes ideas in turn, feeling free to "pass" if they have no comments to share in that round. Do this until everyone gets a chance to contribute. This ensures that everyone participates.
- Pen-and-paper brainstorming. This is a good technique to get introverts to participate. Team members write their input first, then share them with the team.
- Ask team members to send premeeting updates. Prepare meeting notes in advance. This will allow introverts to respond. During the meeting, run through the notes and use one of the above brainstorming techniques to invite others to comment.
- Discuss what was problematic and provide appropriate solutions. Don't try to fix too many problems within a given sprint. Arrive at a feasible number. I recommend prioritizing three to five problematic areas and solving those. To prioritize, use Planning Poker® while you estimate the effort and then decide the number of actions to accommodate.
- Pay sufficient attention to identifying best practices and what worked well. Teams mostly miss doing this exercise. They think a retrospective is to look at problems only. Not so. Retaining best practices and what worked well for the team is crucial for continuous improvement. Again, limit the items you discussed; identify the best feasible number for your team.
- Remember to talk about key statistics that matter to the success of the project/sprint. For example, my team talks about the following key statistics at every sprint and compares the measures with the previous sprint. This is a great way to evaluate whether your team is continuously improving.
- Defect Severity Index and Defect density
- On-time delivery
- Estimated velocity versus actual velocity
- Value proposition: Check whether the project has returned value to its stakeholders
- Any wastes within the sprint, such as administrative hours and training-related activities
- Create a smart action plan. This ensures that the team will go back and act appropriately to adjust. I assure you that if your team misses this step, the team's continuous improvement will be zero or, at best, limited. I use the following format for my teams, and it will probably work for you as well.
- Provide closure. Ask how the team felt during the meeting, whether the meeting was productive and, more important, ask for any improvement areas, and take actions on them.