Retrospective Lays Groundwork for Continuous Improvement

Do Not Postpone Retrospective

I am surprised by how many teams tell me they forgo Retrospective. To me, Retrospective is one of the most important meetings in Scrum.

Why? Because the Retrospective is the heart of continuous improvement. It’s where the team evaluates how well they’ve been working together and proposes better ways to get more stuff done.

According to the Scrum Alliance, the purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to:

  • Inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools;
  • Identify and order the major items that went well and potential improvements; and,
  • Create a plan for implementing improvements to the way the Scrum Team does its work.

Inspect the Last Sprint

Scrum gives the team a forum for discussing how they feel about their progress in the prior Sprint. Broken processes are openly discussed, while there is still time to implement changes. Unlike with traditional post-mortems, which take place after the project is completed, Retrospectives are conducted on a regular basis throughout the project lifecycle. This affords the team multiple opportunities to review their progress and to discuss potential changes before small impediments become huge obstacles and the delivery schedule is negatively impacted.

Identify What Went Well and Areas for Improvement

My favorite part of the Retrospective is that the meeting starts with a celebration of Wins. In the world today, we tend to focus negative aspects. We want to fix what we think is broken. We forget that much of what we do works just fine, and that we should continue to do more of it. In fact, sometimes doing more of what works and stopping doing what doesn’t work is the way to go.   

Plus, taking the time to list everything that went well during the last sprint just feels great! Make sure everyone on the team lists at least one positive aspect. We want everyone on the team in the right mental state to constructively discuss the next topic: Areas for Improvement.

Remember that identifying Areas for Improvement is merely problem identification. At this point of the discussion, focus on symptoms, not solutions. Give everyone an opportunity to list their grievances.

Is there a pattern? Do the same issues return sprint after sprint? These types of issues signal an underlying root cause that has not yet been identified and addressed by the team.

After everyone has had the opportunity to state their grievances, the team should vote on what areas are high priority issues for the team to address. Why vote? Because the team can only effectively absorb 2-3 process improvements each sprint, and we want to ensure the team implements changes that have the most meaning to the team. There are numerous voting methods. The most popular approach is to give team members 5 votes each, to distribute any way they see fit.

Plan for Improvement

Once the team has narrowed down the list of topics, it’s time to brainstorm ways to resolve outstanding issues and work better together. Start with the highest priority issue first. After a short discussion, verbally agree to the option the team plans to adopt next sprint. Then discuss issues 2 and 3.

If the discussion gets heated or the team can’t agree on a decision, remember that we’re agile and we can revisit the topic next Retrospective. The beauty of Retrospective is that nothing is permanent, unless the team wants it to be.

The scrum master should document the Retrospective discussion on the team SharePoint or wiki pages: Wins, Areas for Improvement, Adopted Changes. Retrospective notes should be periodically reviewed to ensure that adopted changes have indeed been implemented and that the same problems haven’t resurfaced with different symptoms. Again, look for patterns. Do not let small issues become big problems that affect velocity and the team’s ability to deliver.

Here’s a nice Retrospective agenda:

  • Celebrate wins (15 minutes)
  • Identify areas for improvement (15 minutes)
  • Vote on areas to brainstorm (5 minutes)
  • Brainstorm and vote on improvements (30 minutes)
  • Round robin and closure (5 minutes)

If everyone is co-located, extend the meeting another 20 minutes and start with snacks and socializing. Make it a party!

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500