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May the Retrospective Be with You

Insight into the sprint retrospective and how it should be conducted

6 December 2017

When the sprint review is complete, the ScrumMaster, product owner, and development team come together for a Scrum ceremony known as the retrospective. The purpose of this meeting is to reflect on how they are doing and look at potential areas of improvement. The ScrumMaster leverages this meeting to enhance the overall output produced and also to improve the performance of the team. It is essential to integrate feedback into the project as early as possible. The ScrumMaster facilitates the retrospective meetings, which usually last three hours (timeboxed).

How to conduct a retrospective

As the ScrumMaster, book a meeting room and ensure that all supplies are available. Set the context of the meeting, and explain the agenda. Ensure that the boundaries of the retrospective are clear to everyone. Does the coverage involve only the last sprint or the last two sprints, or the last quarter?

Write the following headings on the whiteboard:
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What improvements can be made?
Start on a positive note. Write all the things that went well on sticky notes. After all the notes have been pasted, group similar ones for discussion. Establish an environment of continuous improvement. Make it clear that the focus is on action and not on people. Use sticky notes of a specific color, preferably green, to indicate things that went well.

Next, identify areas that could have been done better. This is the most important aspect of a retrospective. Use red-colored sticky notes to detail the items that could have been delivered with better quality, areas where discoveries were made late in the sprint, unexpected hiccups that could have been avoided, and so on. Don’t criticize at this point. The plan is to create a list. The grouping and discussion is done when all the notes have been posted. If there are many categories, the team votes on the priority items and works their way from top to bottom.

Finally, determine the next steps to achieve the things that should have been done better. Make sure that these action items have owners and deadlines attached to them. It is critical to track these actions to completion. Use sticky notes to ensure that there is transparency on the progress of the actions.

The ScrumMaster's role in the retrospective

Your responsibility as the ScrumMaster is to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and to foster collaboration. Address issues that are appropriate to the sprint in question. A retrospective for a sprint in which everything has been delivered seamlessly is handled differently from a retrospective for a sprint in which there were many issues. The ScrumMaster plays a pivotal role not only in appreciating the good work done by the team but also in helping the team to mitigate impediments. Elicit feedback from team members on what needs to be improved by using words such as "Do more of … " or "Do less of … "

The retrospective is also a great time to recognize people for their good work. Be generous in your praise. A happy team is a great team.

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: 3.6 (5 ratings)


Chris Fisher, CSM, 12/6/2017 6:46:30 AM
I thought this was a good article. The only question I have is do your retros, or others that are reading this, really typically last 3 hours? I've never gone more than one hour. I do like the idea of using post-its and may use this for the next retro I conduct.
Rajesh Sampath Kumar, CSM, 12/6/2017 9:35:09 AM
@Chris Fisher - Good point. It varies depending on the length and complexity of the Sprint. I would say for a typical 2 week sprint, an hour should be fine. Its not a hard rule though! Thanks for your comments. You made my day.
Karthikeyan Santhanakrishnan, CSM, 12/6/2017 10:47:33 AM
I like the idea of focus on action items in place as part of continuous improvement rather on individuals. Good article.
Rajesh Sampath Kumar, CSM, 12/6/2017 8:44:02 PM
@Karthikeyan - Thank you!

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