How to improve your Sprint Retrospective meeting?

During a Sprint Retrospective a Scrum team assesses their work and identifies what needs to be done to make the next sprint better. The retrospective is an improvement meeting that tries to make the team continuously better. Although retrospectives are very important to make Scrum work, many teams struggle with them to keep them actionable, energized and focused. Some even stop doing retrospectives because they fail in keeping them effective. This really undermines Scrum; without retrospectives the continuous imrovement cycles is cut out. Running effective and enjoyable retrospectives is not easy. However, there are easy mistakes to prevent and actions to take immediately. The video illustrates this for training and improvement purposes.

The 3 most common mistakes we encounter in practice are:

  • Mistake 1: Retrospectives become a dull and boring routine. The most common mistake is that retrospectives become boring as they become meetings in which the same things is done repeatedly without any variety. The same retrospective technique is used over and over again. And that is really a problem. Because, without effective retrospectives how do you ensure things keep improving? Improving should be fun! After all, you are making things better.
  • Mistake 2: Too many non-actionable improvements. A common mistake is that teams define too many improvements of which many are not actionable. Every retrospective then starts with looking back at all improvement actions from the previous retro that have NOT been addressed. This does not give energy. After all, why do a retrospective if it does not lead to action? Rather define only one actionable improvement that is implemented than 10 that remain untouched.
  • Mistake 3: Focus on what can NOT be changed next sprint. Another common mistake made in retrospectives is that teams are only complaining and do not search for improvements that can be implemented directly. Don’t spend time and energy on things that are not feasible. Only focus on what can be improved in the next sprint. Scrum is about: ‘The art of the possible’; not about what cannot be done. There is always one actionable improvement that can be implemented. Focus on that one!

There are also tips to make the Sprint Retrospective run more smoothly in practice. Our top 5 tips is:

  • Tip 1: Vary with formats – There are multiple formats for retrospectives. There are even specific books written on retrospectives, with clear distinctive steps to take. Vary with formats. Vary with chairman. Vary with locations. Go for a lunch together. Do a retrospective outside in the park. Hire a moderator. Ask the CEO to attend the retrospective. Retrospectives should be fun! They deal with improvement. Don’t let the sprint retrospective ever be boring.
  • Tip 2: Kaizen – Have every Sprint implement find the single most valuable improvement only. And put this work at the top of the Sprint backlog for the next Sprint. That way it gets done. And don’t forget: don’t waste too much time looking backwards during the retro. Look forward. Look to the future. The improvements lie in the future, not in the past. Focus on improving, not on complaining.
  • Tip 3: Define a Goal – Bring focus to a retrospective. Give the retro a goal. Do a ‘double the fun retrospective’ focusing on increasing happiness (and decreasing team frustration). Or do a ‘triple velocity retrospective’ focusing on how to go really, really fast. That out-of-the-box thinking brings ideas that else would not so easily emerge, but still can be implemented directly.
  • Tip 4: Involve Management – Resolving impediments and becoming better is not only a team job. It is a management job too. After all, who is judged on improvement year by year? Who wants to report growth in revenue, customer satisfaction, employee happiness, etc.? Yep, that’s management. So their role in making teams better, is clear. Why not invite management to retrospectives too? Try to let management commit to solving impediments. That way improvements outside the team get addressed as well!
  • Tip 5: No tables – Remove tables from the meeting room. Tables block conversation and provide a strange kind of safety in which people don’t let their hearts speak. Stand up. Be actionable. Be outspoken. Only then will retrospectives really bring value by making things better.

The retrospective is simply too important to let it slip through your fingers. Ensure you run the best retrospectives in the world. Then Scrum will help in making things continuously better!