Respect the Sprint Retro

It amazes me how often Sprint Retro’s are seen as a nice to have or added extra. When deadlines are tight or things are getting frantic it seems that the retro often faces the cut. I’ve certainly been guilty of it in the past, but I’ve found them invaluable many times over and would urge anyone to give them another try.

Retro’s form a vital component of the adaptation principle in Scrum. To constantly adapt and improve you need to know the issues. A note for the all-knowing PM’s out there; don’t fall into the trap of thinking you know what’s wrong. This is not another opportunity for you to re-enforce your message. Take a step back and listen to the team, you will be surprised with not only the items they raise but the solutions they come up with.

Sprint Retro’s allow the team to speak in an open forum and discuss the issues, positives and changes they want to see, and most importantly allow the team to agree actions to rectify. It re-enforces team cohesion and can be quite cathartic, it also allows the team to take ownership of the actions – much better than a PM dictating.

Dealing with these on a sprint by sprint basis is the key, if you can tweak or change something now why wait? Small changes make big differences to people and morale; after all a happy team is just a better place to work. Or to put it another way, it’s absolutely crazy to continually repeat the same mistakes when you may be able to resolve them early, before they have an impact.

If the PM is very forceful or overbearing this may be the only opportunity the team get to put their input forward. If you’re a PM and this sounds like you I urge you once again to take a step back and let the team have their say.

The retro doesn’t have to be anything funky or complicated; in fact the simpler the better. We draw four headings in a grid system:

  • What went well (Keep doing)
  • What went badly (stop doing)
  • What puzzles us (don’t understand)
  • Actions

In no particular order team members shout out items for the first three. These are written on post-its and stuck in the relevant section. When the items dry-up, we quickly step through the post-its one by one and come up with ideas/solutions to rectify. These are added to the Actions section.

We time box the Retro to 30 minutes and run it immediately before Sprint Planning. Any actions are then applied as we run through the planning session.

Every team is different so you need to find the best way for you, but I’ve added a few tips below.


Tips for running a successful Sprint Retro:

  • This must be driven by the team. This is NOT an opportunity for the PM to set the agenda. In fact, take a step back, give the pen to someone else and see what the team come up with – you may be surprised.
  • Try running your retro before Sprint planning not after – that way you can apply any actions immediately.
  • Uncomfortable is ok, it doesn’t have to be all flowers and sunshine it shouldn’t stray into personal though.
  • Capture everything using the standard grid format.
  • Discuss actions there and then – even if the action is a follow-up discussion – if it’s not captured and agreed it will be lost.
  • Circulate the grid after the meeting.
  • Follow through on any actions if you don’t the Retro is meaningless.

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