What is the Purpose of a Sprint Retrospective in Scrum and How Do You Run One Effectively?

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The Sprint Retrospective is an integral part of the Sprint. Successful Agile software development can’t be done without an effective Sprint Retrospective.

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What is the Purpose of a Sprint Retrospective?

Let’s start with the definition of Sprint Retrospective from the Scrum Guide:

“The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done.”

During the Retrospective, the Scrum Team inspects the Sprint in order to understand what caused successes and failures, what approaches worked well, and what can be done better. This information should be taken into consideration for the next Sprint. This way the most significant changes can be applied as soon as possible or added to the Sprint Backlog.

Who should attend the Sprint Retrospective?

This event is held for the Scrum Team, so everyone, including the Product Owner, must attend it. The Scrum Master runs the meeting.

How long should a Sprint Retrospective take?

The timebox for a Sprint Retrospective is a maximum of three hours for a one-month Sprint. Meetings about shorter Sprints should take less time.

What happens in a Sprint Retrospective?

Often, Scrum Masters structure Sprint Retrospectives by creating a table with three columns: “what went well,” “what went badly,” and “what needs improvement.” While this format can be useful, you’ll find that if you follow the exact same structure after every Sprint, your Scrum Team will get bored very quickly.

Retrospectives should be different from time to time; it’s a good practice to change the format you use and questions you ask. Retromat is an excellent resource for inspiration. It has plenty of exercises you can use to customize each Retrospective.

While changing up the format is a good thing, there are some basic structures that you should keep in mind. We recommend that you lead the Team through the following steps described in Agile Retrospectives.

Step 1: Set the Stage

The first thing to do is get everyone in the right mindset for a Sprint Retrospective. You can think of this as “setting the stage” for an unbiased discussion.

When everyone is in the right mental state, it’s time to think about the past iteration. We collect experiences, situations, or impediments — both good and bad. The overall goal is to collect every topic that was covered in the previous Sprint.

You could do this by asking the Team to think about the previous Sprint and describe what made them happy, what they learned, what they were missing, and what they were waiting for. Encourage a free-flowing discussion so you can collect as much data as you can.

Sprint Retrospective Template

Sprint Retrospective: Set the Stage

Step 2: Gather Data

The next step is to dig deeper into the data collected in step one to find root causes and possible solutions.

This can be difficult to do. One good way to get things going is to ask the Team to describe their ideal Sprint and then identify similarities and differences between the actual Sprint and the ideal. This almost always highlights areas for improvement.

Sprint Retrospective Tempate

Sprint Retrospective: The Ideal Sprint

Step 3: Generate Insights

Here, the Team searches for solutions or approaches to try. This is an investment in everyone’s future success. The action items generated during this stage should become part of the continuous inspect and adapt loops the Scrum Team uses throughout the development process.

Since the team has already considered what happened the previous Sprint and compared it to an ideal, they can think about what to change and what to maintain to improve during the next Sprint. Use index cards to collect responses from the team, then group similar ideas together for discussion.

Sprint Retrospective Ideas

Sprint Retrospective: Generate Insights

Step 4: Decide What to Do

The next step is to agree on action items to solve problems and maximize success. It’s a good idea to add them to the Product Backlog and take them to the next Sprint.

Sprint Retrospective Examples

Sprint Retrospective: Results

Step 5: Close The Sprint Retrospective

It’s important to formally close the Retrospective, rather than going directly into your daily routine. This is also an excellent opportunity to get feedback as a facilitator about the Retrospective itself to improve the event in the future.

The Appreciations exercise is a great way to end a Retrospective on a positive note. Invite Team members to say something they appreciate about another member of the Team. Encourage everyone to participate, then close the Sprint Retrospective meeting when no one has spoken for 60 seconds.

Tips for Sprint Retrospective Meetings:

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  • Be prepared. The Sprint Retrospective is one of the most important events in Scrum. If you don’t do it at all or don’t do it efficiently, you are depriving your team of voice. Create a facilitation plan for each Retrospective and make sure your team completes each step.
  • Explain the Vegas Rule to your Team: “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Whatever is said in the the Sprint Retrospective meeting must be kept private among the participants and should never be repeated to others. There is no exception to this rule. It encourages trust and honest feedback, and the Team needs to be sure they won’t be judged. A Sprint Retrospective is a safe place for everyone.
  • Make someone responsible for each action item. Without assigning responsibility, it’s likely that everyone will assume that someone else will handle it, and your action items will never actually get implemented.
  • Don’t forget to review action items from previous Retrospectives to see whether they were solved or not. Autonomy and accountability hand in hand.
  • If your team says they don’t need Sprint Retrospectives because they have nothing to improve, remember that perfection has no bounds.

The Purpose of Sprint Retrospective is crucial because it allows the Team to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. It should be one of the main tools you use to make continuous improvements.