10 Recommendations to Make your Scrum Retrospective Effective

Do you keep seeing your team needs to improve the same thing sprint after sprint? Is your team leaving the retrospectives learnings in a document somewhere? Has your retrospective turned more into an event that people go to rather than space to explore how to truly improve? Are your teams not integrating into their sprint actions that address the bottlenecks identified in the scrum retrospective? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, sadly, your scrum retrospective it’s not effective. This can be frustrating. But don’t worry, we’ve been there too. Here are ten recommendations to make your scrum retrospectives effective.

  1. Lead your scrum retrospectives, don’t manage them. Leading means mobilizing team members towards the vision of what they can achieve as well as inspecting and adapting processes, interactions, people and/or tools. Fearlessly, encourage team members to critically assess their way of working, its implications, and pay-offs. A good retrospective can be the starting point for a better version of themselves and the opportunity to have a positive impact on the organization’s delivery. What can be better than leading this?
  2. Be clear about the scrum retrospective goal: “inspecting and adapting the scrum team system of work”. To lead a team retrospective you must be clear about the retrospective goal and what success would look like once you achieve it. In scrum, retrospectives seek to inspect and adapt the scrum team system of work. Scrum defines the system of work as the processes, interactions, people, and tools. Hence, your retrospective should be focused on inspecting or adapting all or any of these elements.
  3. Design an experience rather than an event for your team. Your team members are human beings, making some time to humbly admit that they must keep improving. Hence, why not give them the best experience? Checking how they are as the retrospective begins, being creative with the structure & activities within the retrospective, and making the retrospective more a “gathering” than an “event” are the first steps to designing a great retrospective. Your team members will thank you and the results will be better.
  4. Extract what happened in terms of processes, interactions, people, and/or tools. The retrospective should help the team but also the organization. For a retrospective to be useful it must provide insights into the sprint processes, interactions, people, and/or tools. If the outcomes of the retrospective are too generic they won’t allow the identification of bottlenecks or improvement opportunities.
  5. Identify key bottlenecks or improvements. It is fundamental for the retrospective to become the space in which your teams can identify what is stopping them from delivering their best. Don’t be afraid to nudge the team to rethink and evaluate themselves. If teams were challenged in the proper way during their retrospective, they will always find bottlenecks or opportunities for improvement. Make use of data, output results, conflicts that might have emerged, considerations put forward by any team member, definitions of done, and/or sprint goal to ask what could have been done better/differently? What stopped them from achieving it?
  6. Identify solutions or improvements and monitor their impact. The retrospective should not turn into a space for teams to continuously weep for what they can’t achieve. The retrospective should help them improve. Hence, the retrospective output should be actions to solve bottlenecks or to improve as a team. Make it clear to the team that they come to the retrospective to be better and that implies taking ownership & actions. Furthermore, as the solutions or improvements are implemented, monitor their impact: which solutions allowed to increase team velocity? To increase sprint goal achievement? To improve the product? To impact positively on the team’s interactions? Finally, register the best practice and solutions.
  7. Promote ownership of the solutions or improvements within the team. As bottlenecks, improvements or solutions are identified and agreed upon, make sure to ask: Who is going to make sure that the bottleneck is removed? Who is going to be accountable for the implementation? By when are we going to make sure the bottleneck is removed ? Even though the team as a whole must be accountable for the retrospective outcome and actions ahead, it is good to promote the identification of owners of the bottlenecks and improvements.
  8. Promote the introduction of solutions or improvements as actions in the next sprint. To make retrospective outputs actionable it is fundamental to make sure the solutions or improvements are taken by the team. Concretely, that means, that they are executed within the sprint (s) of the team. Solutions or improvements that stay in a pretty document or colorful post-it won’t make great teams and great output.
  9. Scale the team’s retrospective learnings within the organization and make them accessible. Make sure you ideate how to make the retrospective outcome available to other teams in the organization. This can prove very challenging if the organization’s structure, leadership, and culture are not yet agile ( although they are trying to become agile). Some ideas to scale the retrospectives under challenging situations can be: cross-team retrospective learning tables, showcasing of retro hacks for the organization, agilethons across teams to solve bottlenecks, having a center of agile excellence within the organization where team members can access the organization retrospective learnings, or creating “bottlenecks solutions cheat sheets” for teams in the organization to access easily.
  10. Gather feedback and keep improving. With every retrospective, you should strive to make the experience unforgettable for your team members. Sometimes you succeed at it, other times you fail. Surveying team members on the opportunities to improve and make this experience more valuable will allow you to support them better and achieve higher results. Moreover, it will allow you to learn their preferences and customize the experience. Finally, at least monthly, use the survey results to monitor the quality of your retrospective.

Those are our ten recommendations to make your scrum retrospective effective! I hope you like them! Share any other recommendation with us, we would love to learn from you!

Nastasha Velasco

Note. Are you visual? Here the video and pdf slides!

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