Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.

How to Achieve Valuable Retrospectives

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
WhatsApp

“Oh no, it’s the retrospective time!”

This cry for help is not uncommon, I’m afraid, among practitioners of Scrum. That is a shame. For me, this meeting is the climax of the scrum framework – this is the place where we get better. The discussions can get very deep and very meaningful. I would like to show here how to move from the statement appearing in the title of this paragraph to “Oh boy, it’s the retrospective time!”.

Timing

The retrospective is scheduled to take place at the very end of the sprint. For many teams, this is the time when all their development efforts from the entire sprint culminate. The thought of stopping at this time their intense activity toward a boring (see later about that) meeting is irrationality itself. And so, around 5 minutes prior to the time of the meeting people get the cancellation email, or out of habit the meeting is plainly ignored.

Indeed, it doesn’t make sense to stop everything abruptly just like that, at the peak of the sprint’s activity.

What can we do about this?

I believe that the problem is not with the timing of the retrospective, but rather with the dynamics of the sprint. What does it say about the quality of development if everything ends at the last minute? Will there be time for proper testing? Will there be time for proper reviews? Will there be time for proper feedback?

Here is Jira’s control chart of a team that ends most of the work at the sprint’s end. I’ve circled columns of dots. Each dot is a development item ending on the X-axis date. The height of the dots is how long it took to complete. You see that items started at different times but ended together. This is the phenomenon known as end-of-sprints-pressures.

This is something to talk about in a retrospective! Try getting items to do all along the sprint and you will both reduce the pressure off the team and have time for retrospectives and other important (but not as urgent) activities.

The below team works like that:

Safety

Many retrospective meetings are a good place for self-contemplation, as they are very quiet. The scrum master says some words to open the meeting and then it’s all mum’s words. No one is saying anything.

Is it so quiet because everything is perfect? Usually, that will not be the case. Many times people don’t talk because (1) they are afraid that anything they say will boomerang back to them and (2) they don’t believe anything can really change. We’ll talk about (2) later here.

A retrospective meeting is a very delicate meeting as we talk about how we do things, a meeting where we try to take a look at ourselves from the outside.

People will talk if they feel safe. In many teams, people don’t feel comfortable talking about what they did, and what others did, especially the things that could go better.

How can we change that?

The first thing that we need is patience. It takes time to build trust. People will feel safe if they see consistency in behavior for a long time. What behavior? See here for a few suggestions.

If you want people to talk about what they can do better, start with yourself. A scrum master showing vulnerability is someone you can trust. Talk about what you can do better. Talk about things you did that didn’t go well. Ask team members to suggest improvements. Try adopting these.

Lead by example: act as you expect the team to act. That would be a great first step.

Next, don’t talk about what went wrong. The language is “what could go better”. That’s looking at things from a positive perspective. We are not looking for people whom we can blame. We are looking for ideas for things to improve.

When someone talks about something that didn’t go well, don’t press on why they were wrong, but rather how it can work better the next time. 

Last, do not use things said in the retrospective outside the meeting. The only purpose of this meeting is to improve. If people will hear things they said used against them or against others in some other context, they will not talk.

People need to feel safe: lead by example, think positively, and focus on improvement.

Topics for discussion

What do we talk about? We have the time, we feel safe to have an open discussion, and still, we can hear the air flowing from the air conditioning system.

A good starting point for discussion is whether the team achieved the sprint goal and why. My experience shows that from that point a very good conversation follows. For example:

The only issue with this suggestion is that many teams don’t have a sprint goal, and that’s something worth handling.

The sprint goal is a statement that can be answered with Yes or No at the end of the sprint. This statement is formulated by the entire team during sprint planning. You look at the scope of stories that is your forecast for the sprint and you try to bring it to one statement. Once you have that statement you ask yourself whether your forecast serves that goal.

The goal is used throughout the sprint as a guiding star to show the direction. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t have a direction, you have a bunch of development items, and then at the retrospective, it is not clear what did we try to achieve.

Talking about the goal in the sprint retrospective creates a very good discussion. Did we meet the goal? Yes – what are the good things we did?

 No – what could go better next time?

Experimentation

As stated above, one of the reasons people don’t talk during retrospectives is that they don’t believe anything will change. A very good way to have things change is by experimenting.

Many times during retrospective meetings we understand something should be changed. Reaching a decision to actually change something is not easy – what will be the consequences? Can it hurt us? A good approach to this is through experimentation. Instead of getting big decisions let’s agree on a small, pinpointed experiment.

For example, I believe in pair programming. Usually when I mention this people talk about it but it is very difficult to get a decision on it. Then I say – “guys, I am definitely not suggesting that starting tomorrow all your work will be done in pairs. All I suggest is that you give it a chance and try it out. Why not have two guys pair for 2 hours on the next sprint? Let’s talk about it in the next retrospective and see what came out of it”. It is much easier to get a decision in two hours for the next sprint than a total change in the way we work.

Following Through

Deciding on experiments is good but we get the real value when we follow through. And what better place than the retrospective meeting?

A good time to check on our experiments is immediately after the discussion about meeting the goals. Many times you will find that your experiment contributed (hopefully positively) to making the goal.

At the end of the discussion about the experiment we did comes the question – what next? Should we set up another experiment? Should we expand the experiment? Should we back away from it?

Regarding our experiment: we said we will try pairing. The two developers involved said it worked great (it usually does, by the way. You should give it a chance. Maybe start with two guys pairing for an hour or two?) We now want to continue with this experiment and ask all developers to have at least one hour of pairing with another developer in the next sprint. We will use the daily meeting to look for good pairing opportunities.

“Oh boy, it’s the retrospective time!” 

Good retrospectives march you forward professionally, as a team, and as an individual. This is your chance to zoom out of the day-to-day and look at the big picture. To make it happen you need to have the time, let people feel safe, and have good topics for discussion – like the sprint goal. Deciding on experiments and following through on them is the bottom line that makes people trust the process.

Subscribe for Email Updates:

Categories:

Tags:

Manage Budget Creation
Lean Agile Basics
System Team
PI Planning
Iterative Incremental Development
Agile Project Management
Reading List
Nexus Integration Team
Lean Risk Management
Principles of Lean-Agile Leadership
speed at scale
Sprint Iteration
Continuous Deployment
Scrum
Kanban Game
chatgpt
Process Improvement
Self-organization
Risk-aware Product Development
Accelerate Value Delivery At Scale
Agile
GanttBan
Certification
Agile Israel
LPM
Nexus and SAFe
The Agile Coach
Agile Project
Agile Delivery
Kanban 101
ScrumMaster Tales
ATDD
Agile Release Management
Introduction to ATDD
Agile Development
Legacy Enterprise
A Kanban System for Software Engineering
Scrum Primer
Hybrid Work
Portfolio for Jira
EOS®
Effective Agile Retrospectives
Jira
Legacy Code
IT Operations
Implementation of Lean and Agile
Continuous Delivery
Professional Scrum with Kanban
Product Ownership
Nexus
Software Development
Built-In Quality
Lean and Agile Principles and Practices
RTE
Agile Mindset
Operational Value Stream
Kanban Basics
LeSS
Jira Plans
Code
Change Management
Agile Games and Exercises
Releases Using Lean
Implementing SAFe
ART Success
The Kanban Method
Agile for Embedded Systems
TDD
Business Agility
Agile Product Development
Lean Software Development
Atlassian
predictability
Spotify
NIT
Daily Scrum
Kanban Kickstart Example
SA
Test Driven Development
Atlaassian
Coaching Agile Teams
An Appreciative Retrospective
Agile Product Ownership
Agile Program
Team Flow
Development Value Streams
Entrepreneurial Operating System®
Sprint Retrospectives
Managing Projects
Tools
Amdocs
Software Development Estimation
Managing Risk on Agile Projects
Nexus vs SAFe
Presentation
Artificial Intelligence
Agile Outsourcing
Lean Agile
Continuous Planning
Jira Cloud
Elastic Leadership
What Is Kanban
Perfection Game
Risk Management in Kanban
Introduction to Test Driven Development
Agile Risk Management
Agile India
DevOps
Pomodoro Technique
lean agile change management
POPM
Agile Exercises
Kaizen
Scrum Master Role
ARTs
Lean and Agile Techniques
Advanced Roadmaps
Planning
Lean Startup
Tips
System Archetypes
Lean Agile Management
AI
SAFe Release Planning
Engineering Practices
ALM Tools
System Integration Environments
Agile Marketing
Limiting Work in Progress
Professional Scrum Master
AI Artificial Intelligence
Kaizen Workshop
Rapid RTC
RTE Role
Acceptance Test-Driven Development
Sprint Planning
Lean Budgeting
Large Scale Scrum
Video
Agile Basics
agileisrael
Scrum Guide
Agile Contracts Best Practices
Product Management
WIP
Agile in the Enterprise
Risk Management on Agile Projects
Systems Thinking
Webinar
LAB
Scrum Master
Scaled Agile Framework
Continuous Integration
SAFe
Agile Games
Agile and DevOps Journey
ROI
Scrum With Kanban
Nexus and Kanban
speed @ scale
Continuous Improvement
Applying Agile Methodology
Lean Agile Organization
Lean-Agile Budgeting
SAFe DevOps
Story Slicing
SPC
Enterprise DevOps
QA
User stories
Certified SAFe
Games and Exercises
Kanban
Agile Techniques
Agile Assembly Architecture
Covid19
Program Increment
Professional Scrum Product Owner
Agile Israel Events
Jira admin
Value Streams
Lean Agile Leadership
Frameworks
Agile Community
ATDD vs. BDD
Scrum Values
Achieve Business Agility
Scrum and XP
Quality Assurance
RSA
Agile Release Planning
Release Train Engineer
Agile Testing Practices
Scrum.org
BDD
Keith Sawyer
PI Objectives
AgileSparks
Slides
Lean-Agile Software Development
AgileSparks
Logo
Enable registration in settings - general

Contact Us

Request for additional information and prices

AgileSparks Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter, and stay updated on the latest Agile news and events

This website uses Cookies to provide a better experience
Shopping cart