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Effective Agile Retrospectives

Setting the Stage

13 September 2016

Of the Agile ceremonies, the one that is often treated as an afterthought is the retrospective. One reason is that a retrospective is generally held on the day of sprint planning or in conjunction with other sprint activities, such as the end-of-sprint demo, which ultimately leaves the retrospective at the bottom of the pecking order. Until teams actually attend retrospectives, they will be bored, disillusioned, or simply not interested in an exercise that, if not simply controlled, can turn into the blame game.

Retrospectives are necessary for continuous improvement. We look back at the sprint and come up with key findings and best practices that can help us improve in the upcoming sprint. To actually make retrospectives useful and effective, the first prerequisite is to ensure that the meetings are full of positive energy. To break the monotony of sprint-after-sprint retrospectives, you can plan a few key aspects.

I usually follow these steps to make my retrospectives effective:

Set the stage

Setting the stage is necessary for preparing the team to engage in a retrospective. Start with a very small team game or puzzle. It will act as an ice breaker.

Identify a facilitator

Get one enthusiastic representative from the team to run the retrospective meeting along with the ScrumMaster.

Explain the retrospective technique (i.e., gathering data).

I would recommend using a colorful, pictorial retrospective technique. It will catch everybody’s attention. Briefly explain the metaphors used in the technique to the team. Any retrospective technique you use should be able to identify the enablers, the blockers, improvement area, accomplishments, and allow for "thank you notes."

Example: Flying High: Aeroplane
  • Clear sky, sunshine [Enablers]: What enabled this plane to fly toward its destination? What went well in the current sprint? Example: Good code reviews, team work, and effective division of tasks among the team members.
  • Dark clouds, lightning [Blockers]: What blockers did it face? Identify all the blocking issues faced by the team in the current sprint. Example: Unavailability of lab resources, delay in review cycles, and external team dependency.
Improvement areas: What are the improvement areas for the next flight? How can we make the next experience better? What are the items that we would like to improve in the next sprint? Example: Grooming of user stories, better planning of tasks, and identification of obstacles.

What can cause this plane to crash, going forward? Identify risks that can derail the project off its schedule or cause it to fail.

Pilot/Star of the sprint: Who was the pilot/star of the current sprint? Which team member performed his or her best in a particular sprint?

Extract insights

Once you have all the inputs, make a list of all the blockers and the improvement areas. Discuss each item with a timebox of no more than two minutes for each issue. Get votes on each item, and come up with the top three burning issues that you will address in the next sprint.

Close the retrospective meeting

  1. Identify actions for all the issues picked.
  2. Identify owners for each area, and come up with a time line to resolve those issues.
  3. Divide the issues picked into two categories:
    • Team improvement areas
    • Leadership improvement areas
  4. Share updates on the retrospective items with all stakeholders before the next retrospective meeting.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.6 (8 ratings)


Sumit Misra, CSM, 9/13/2016 5:33:58 AM
Great article Priyanka. Overall the flow is apt for the Scrum teams to break their silence and express their views for the continuous improvement. Also, such creative Retro techniques enable the teams to feel motivated and enthusiastic.
Priyanka Yadav, CSM, 9/13/2016 12:03:19 PM
Thanks Sumit

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