Help! Our retrospective is killing us slowly

Sprint Retrospectives signals the end of a sprint. It is a ‘meeting’ for the scrum team to inspect and adapt what they did in the sprint.  As defined by The Scrum Guide, developed and sustained by Scrum creators Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, 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;
  • Create a plan to improve the way the Scrum team does its work.

By my experience, sprint Retrospective meetings tend to be avoided by the Scrum team. And that’s not because they don’t know the benefits these sessions provide. It’s simply because they know how tedious they can be if not led with creativity and energy from the scrum master.

I once witnessed some teams go through the motion of the retrospective. The format of the retrospective has never changed for them, it was typically,  “What went well”, “what needs to change”, “Any learnings”. There were no action items from the retrospective. When I asked why this was the case, they told me there was nothing to change!

Does this sound familiar:

  • We still have some user stories to finish this sprint;
  • I don’t find the meeting impactful;
  • There are too many meetings to attend;
  • We simply attend all these meetings but no change occurs;
  • We have nothing new this sprint, hence nothing to discuss;

Creating an impactful retrospective

Prime Directive: The Prime Directive creates psychological safety for your teams. I call it a just-in-time working agreement.  I usually ask one of the team members to read it out and everyone affirms it. It also reassures the team that all conversation that happens stays within the walls of the retrospective, kind like the Vegas rule.

Different Retrospective format:  Use Retromat or try the Liberating Structures for different activities to use at your retrospective meetings. If you work with distributed teams, there are several virtual tools to help facilitate a collaborative retro. Explore Fun retrospective, reetro, mural and several others. There are paid and free subscriptions. You might want to try out some of the tools before involving your teams.

Prepare for the retrospective:  As a Scrum Master, I often spent the whole of the sprint preparing for the sprint retrospective. I capture significant events and jot down my observations about how the team work together,  which is then shared with the team.  Also, I check in with the team members and product owner to get their perspective. What have they seen this sprint? What is bothering them? What will they like to change? This habit of mine rubs off on some of the teams that I work with that they when on to create a physical timeline for the team to populate. 

Create an agenda: The 5 stages of the retrospective is very helpful when drawing up the agenda. 1.) Set the stage. 2.) Gather data. 3.)Generate insight 4)Decide what to do 5)Close the retrospective. Though I often add one stage- review of last sprint action items as the 2nd step. 

Environment: Retrospectives doesn’t have to be within the confinement of the office. Explore, go creative. Treat your team to a game of bowling, if the weather is nice, go outside to the park or go for lunch. Ensure you plan ahead and cater to everyone’s needs.

Conclusion

A well-facilitated retrospectives motivates your team(s) by providing them with the opportunity to speak up, share their ideas, and be heard.

What have you tried with you teams lately? Share your ideas in the comment section below, I love to read from you to.

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