How to Run Sprint Retrospectives Like a Pro (A step-by-step guide)

• Agile

The sprint retrospective is one of the four ceremonies in the Scrum framework and is the most overlooked and avoided. It’s the case not because scrum teams are not aware of the benefits but how tedious they can get.

The retrospective offers the platform to objectively look at the previous sprint’s processes–the good, the bad, and the ugly. The scrum master and the development team discuss what went well and what needs improvement.

The sprint retrospective is often confused with the sprint review. While the sprint review looks at the results delivered, the retrospective takes a broader look at the sprint itself, including systems applied, processes employed. The sprint review focuses on the results of the sprint while the retrospective looks to examine how those results were either achieved or not.

Here’s an in-depth guide on what your sprint retrospective should look like and how to set one up, so your sprints can keep driving increasingly better results over time.

What is a sprint retrospective?

The sprint retrospective is a review session that takes place at the end of each sprint so the team can review and identify ways to improve the existing processes. It helps a team look at a just-concluded sprint in retrospect so they can pinpoint what went well, what didn’t, and what to tweak going forward.

The Scrum Master sets the stage for the sprint retrospective by creating an environment where the team can share what their experience was like working on the sprint, including the challenges faced, and any peculiar learnings that could be applied to improve project delivery in future sprints.

The sprint retrospective serves as an avenue for the scrum team to:

  • Highlight specific parts of the execution strategy they feel could be improved on
  • Share insights with other team members on what exactly they intend to do to improve their sprint execution process

Sprint retrospectives are designed to break down how a sprint went as well as collect actionable insights on what to improve to run more productive sprints in the future. As a result, before setting out to run a productive sprint retrospective, you want to make sure that the product owner and team members participate in the review. Not every stakeholder but just the basic team since they’re the ones to make their observations open, that’ll take note of actionable points, and apply them in the future. Informed team members take insights from retrospectives and turn them into better sprints and overall, projects.

The purpose of conducting a retrospective meeting

The basic advantage of retrospective meetings is that it serves as the actionable part of the incremental improvement in agile. Retrospectives make it easier to build up quality and capacity without spending weeks and months refreshing your strategy. Other ways via which retrospectives benefit agile teams include:

  • Retrospectives offer an accepting atmosphere for team members to air their views without fear of criticism
  • Retrospectives help foster a team-first attitude that eventually translates into better and faster-executed projects
  • It helps build and maintain a culture of iterative growth so the team’s work can improve over time—with minimal friction

What happens during the sprint retrospective?

You’ll need to collect in-depth questions that will help the team see why things worked out the way they did, as well as what to do better or change entirely in the future. They’re designed to get team members to think deeply about their experience and observations executing the project. It’s easy to uncover and mutually share insights and tips that can be applied by the entire team going forward. Some of these questions include:

1. What are we here for?

The first stage is the point where the scrum master takes point and sets the goal for the sprint retrospective. It’s critically important that the specific goals of a retrospective are clearly outlined so the entire team can build consensus around them and focus their efforts on them throughout the duration of the meeting. This stage also serves as a buffer or a transition period for team members to get into the mood of the meeting and focus on contributing their best.

2. What happened during the duration of the sprint?

This is the point where all the raw data generated from the sprint is brought forward to track exactly what happened during the sprint. With different data coming from teammates, all speaking from slightly different perspectives, it’s easier identifying where the data at hand fits in the bigger picture.

3. What does the data we’ve generated mean to us?

Here bigger picture thinking is applied to uncover where the data fits in and what it means to the team. In a way, this stage focuses on, “Now, we have the facts and insights, how do they all apply to our just concluded sprint?”

4. How do we apply the insights we’ve generated in actionable terms?

With the bigger picture in sight, the next question to come up then is, “so, what do we do about it?”. This stage is where the team decides on specific action steps that’ll be taken to address the insights that have been deduced from the project execution data.

How to run effective sprint retrospectives

There are several ways to run a sprint retrospective but they all have the same foundational aspects.

Some of the popular ways are:

  • Start, stop, continue
  • The Agile retrospective
  • Good, bad, better, best

Depending on your team’s needs you can adapt these and build your own play.

What went well during the sprint?

More than just celebrating the wins recorded in a sprint, the ‘what went well’ question creates a positive stepping stone into the retrospective process. Overall, the ‘what went well’ question helps the team gather actionable insights on systems and processes that should be kept exactly like they are—because they work.

What went wrong during the sprint?

Asking the ‘what went wrong’ question acknowledges the issues that came up during the sprint. Once these obstacles are identified, you can work on overcoming them to ensure smooth delivery on future sprints.

What did we learn during the sprint?

This question is designed to serve as a knowledge-sharing platform for all team members to pass all their observations that could be applied during future sprints. Leveraging what has been learned forms the basis of incremental improvement, which is the backbone of the entire agile methodology.

What should we do differently in the next sprint?

At this stage, it’s time to go actionable, taking all the insights collected from the questions above, and creating an action plan to implement them on future sprints. This demands that all team members share their perspectives on how the strengths and weaknesses outlined from the earlier questions can be addressed to deliver better future results.

The questions above are designed to prompt team members to bring up all the insights accumulated across the team to the table so it’s easy to point out what worked and what didn’t work, record the working tips for continued use, as well as make appropriate tweaks to keep the project management strategy maximally productive.

Final thoughts

Sprint retrospectives provide the perfect platform for your team to come together and share their ideas for process improvement. The session needs to be under 90 minutes, action-oriented, and blameless. You can continuously improve by eliminating the things that don’t work and doing more of what works.