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Insights / Agile Transformation / What Is A Sprint Retrospective?

August 23, 2013

What Is A Sprint Retrospective?

3 mins read

One of the keys to making Agile work is acting upon and integrating feedback into project work as early and often as possible.  A retrospective is one of the best methods to regularly integrate feedback into your project management.

Sounds great, right?  Of course, it does!

However, like any process worth following sometimes it is easier said than done.  There are many scenarios that can derail a retrospective and cause the team – or your leadership – to lose faith in the Agile approach.  In this post, we’ll provide an overview of what a retrospective is, and highlight some important things to keep in mind.

Defining a Retrospective

A retrospective is one of the key ceremonies in Scrum.  Retrospectives allow a team to reflect upon and adapt their processes throughout the course of a project in order to work smarter and more effectively.  Meaningful retrospectives resolve project impediments, identify key issues, and create an environment of continuous improvement.  Without meaningful retrospectives, teams can experience a lack of focus, insufficient participation, and poor (if any) follow-through.  Making the retrospective a regular part of your Scrum process will create a culture within your team that promotes transparency, eliminates the “blame game,” and focuses on solutions first and foremost.

How It Works

A retrospective is held after the sprint review at the end of each sprint.  During the retrospective, the team self-identifies elements of their process that did or did not work during the sprint, along with potential solutions. The length of the meeting time varies but should be limited to no more than one hour per week of the sprint – so if your sprint was two weeks long, your retrospective should be no more than two hours.

Retrospectives are facilitated by the ScrumMaster. The Product Owner may participate as well – unless his or her attendance becomes an impediment.  All other members of the Scrum team are required attendees for the retrospective.

Role of a ScrumMaster

An experienced ScrumMaster is essential for a successful retrospective. While there are many ways to identify issues, it is the ScrumMaster’s responsibility to facilitate the retrospective so that the team self-identifies true process issues and develops actionable solutions in line with Agile principles. The ScrumMaster is responsible for designing each retrospective to address the specific team needs at that moment in time. A team coming off a successful release will have different needs compared to a team who just completed a sprint with big challenges or where nothing was completed.

Perspectives on Retrospectives

Again, retrospectives are critical but planning and executing them effectively is much easier said than done. Here are a few key things to keep in mind:

  1. An effective retrospective is one that identifies fresh challenges for teams to recognize and address.  Retrospectives that continue to highlight repeating issues may be symptomatic of a larger challenge (potentially an inexperienced ScrumMaster, or organizational dysfunction).
  2. Practice makes perfect.  Don’t let one rough discussion derail you from regularly using retrospectives.  The more you continue to use them, the better and more effective they will be for your Scrum team.
  3. There are many available resources to help ScrumMasters manage the dynamics of their retrospective and determine which model would be best for each team.  Here are a few extra tips.

Taking time to conduct retrospectives will turn new teams into good teams and good teams into hyper-performing teams.

Have questions or insights about retrospectives? Share them here!

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