Agile Retrospectives

One of the Agile principles states that "At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly." The Sprint Retrospective provides an opportunity for the delivery team to inspect and adapt by celebrating what’s working well and identifying specific actions the team may take to drive continuous improvement.

Similar to how the Sprint Demo provides feedback on the product produced during the Sprint, the retrospective (retro) meeting provides an opportunity for the team to give feedback on and improve its process. After reviewing data from the previous Sprint, the team identifies a small number (1-3) of concrete actions items that they can complete within the next Sprint. These action items become team commitments, just like stories, and the team will consider at the next retro whether they’ve had the intended result.

Retrospective Tips

  • Hold a retrospective at the end of each sprint and not just at the end of a release. This will help the team maintain a normal cadence for feedback and improvement throughout the entire project.
  • Plan 1-2 hours for the retrospective depending on sprint length.
  • When timelines are tight, do not cancel the retrospective for the sake of time. The retrospective is your opportunity to improve the team and can even prevent tight timelines in the future!
  • Hold a retrospective even if the sprint went really well to recognize that accomplishment, share appreciation for the efforts each team member made, and consider what could be done to improve even more.
  • Create a shared document that the team can add potential retro topics to throughout the sprint. This helps to ensure that key ideas and thoughts are not forgotten and may speed up the brainstorming section of the retro.
  • Use silent brainstorming to ensure that everyone contributes some ideas and to limit a dominant voice from taking over. Writing ideas down can also help if some team members prefer having time to reflect, as opposed to coming up with ideas on the spot.
  • Utilize consensus checks, such as fist to five or roman voting, to make sure everyone is on board and in agreement with the team’s committed action items.
  • Vary the activities used for each stage of the retrospective to keep things fresh.
  • There are many retrospective activities that work well, or can be modified, to work well for a distributed team. Tools like WebEx, Google Hangouts, webcams, & electronic boards (ex. Ideaboardz) can be utilized to increase collaboration.

Sample 60 Minute Retro Agenda

  • In room prep: Post-it notes, Sharpies, flip chart or whiteboard
  • Remote prep: Set-up electronic board & have link ready, webcam for video sharing
Set the Stage Review the effectiveness of the action items from the previous retro and focus everyone on the goals for this retro. 5 Check-in: Each team member shares 1 word to describe their experience in the last Sprint Last Retro’s Actions: Quickly review action items from previous retro - were they effective? Alternate Set the Stage Activities: None
Gather Data Collect ideas (data) from all team members. Identify what action items from the last retrospective went well, what could still be improved, and what the team should continue doing. 10 Modified Starfish exercise: Flipchart/whiteboard/electronic board with 4 quadrants:
  • Keep Doing
  • Start Doing
  • Stop Doing
  • Appreciations (things you want to thank another team member for doing during the sprint)
10 minutes of silent brainstorming to come up with as many ideas as they want for each quadrant. Write ideas on Post-its/electronic board (1 idea per Post-it). Add them to the board/flipchart when done. Alternate Gather Data Activities:
Flipchart/whiteboard/ electronic board created with the 4 quadrants Post-its & Sharpies
Generate Insights Look for trends & insights across the data. Are there common themes mentioned by multiple team members? 15 Affinity Grouping: Read through the captured items as a whole group. No in depth discussion at this point (no agreeing, disagreeing, solutioning) just make sure everyone understands what the item means. Look for trends & move any similar ideas together. Add a theme/title for that group. Alternate Generate Insights Activities: None
Decide What to Do Prioritize a couple items to discuss further & determine specific action items to take. Think about what would provide the most impact to the team. 25 Dot Voting: Use dot voting to prioritize the feedback generated & narrow down the topics that the team will discuss (smaller focus so there’s a higher chance of success at completing).
  • Each person gets x # of votes (usually a third of the potential options) to use however they want (ex. Can use all votes on one item or spread across a couple items)
  • Total up the votes & identify the top 2-3 topics.
  • Start brainstorming potential action items for the item with the highest number of votes (move to the second & third as time allows). Capture any proposed ideas. Do a consensus check (roman vote or fist to five) to get agreement on committed actions.
  • Capture who’s responsible & a target date for all actions.
Alternate Decide What to Do Activities:
Sharpies Dot stickers (optional) Take a photo of the results
Close the Retro Recap actions, collect feedback on the retro, & officially close the retro. 5 Capture the agreed upon action items & share them with the whole team. Get feedback on the usefulness of this retro (1 - no value through 5 - very valuable) from each team member on their way out) Alternate Close the Retro Activities:
  • Appreciations
Retro feedback on flip chart or electronic board

Retro Stages Source: Esther Derby & Diana Larsen, Agile Retrospectives - Making Good Teams Great

See Also