Sprint retrospectives: A time for reflection
At the beginning of every year, many people spend some time reflecting and looking back to identify their achievements and shortcomings in the previous year. Then they come up with an action plan for how to improve on the identified achievements and address the identified shortcomings.
The same approach can be applied to Scrum. However, the difference is that in life, the period of reflection takes the form of New Year's resolutions, whereas in Scrum they are referred to as sprints. The sprint retrospective meeting is a reflective session for the team to think about how the sprint went. Over the years, while helping companies transition to Scrum and leading sprint retrospectives, I have noticed that it takes time for teams to adjust and give their honest opinions about how the sprint went.
What is a sprint retrospective? It is an important meeting in Scrum during which team members discuss three things:
- What went well in the sprint (continue doing)
- What didn’t go well in the sprint (stop doing)
- Areas of improvement (start doing)
The retrospective session is a compulsory meeting that requires the attendance of all team members. It usually lasts for an hour or less, depending on the size of your team. As the ScrumMaster, you can develop a relationship with your team and make the retrospective session fun. By doing this, the team will look forward to it and remind you whenever you forget to schedule the session.
Eliciting honest feedback
To ensure the success of the retrospective sessions, communicate to the team that none of the feedback shared during the session should be taken personally, and inputs must be respectfully structured. Team members can consider constructive feedback as working toward self-improvement. One of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto is that teams reflect on what they have done to become more effective and work toward continuous improvement. It is the responsibility of the ScrumMaster to help all team members understand that they are participating because they are all shareholders in the business, and their inputs are valuable for the success of the team and the organization.
I use the Pointing Poker tool for sprint retrospectives. I love this tool, because team members cannot see what others are writing until it is in the review mode. Therefore, team members are able to give their honest and clear opinion. One unique advantage this tool has over word-of-mouth feedback is that team members cannot be biased or copy each other’s input. In the past, when I facilitated this meeting verbally, people’s comments were usually repeated, which meant that my team members were not really thinking for themselves. This Pointing Poker tool helped mitigate this disadvantage.
My team members take 15 minutes to reflect on how the sprint went and write their input. I then call on them randomly to read and discuss what they've written. This keeps all the team members alert during the meeting. As a team, we decide on items that we want to start doing
. Anyone from the team can take the initiative to lead or work on this area of improvement.
When the session is done, the outcome of the retrospective can be downloaded by using the Export button in Pointing Poker. (Note that the export must be done immediately, before all users exit the session; otherwise, you will lose all the information collected.) If we are implementing our start doing
, we keep a copy of the retrospective outcome to review before our next Scrum meeting. This way, we can achieve continuous improvement.