Sprint retrospectives are often the first meeting to fall off of an agile team's calendar, but why is that? Some teams debate the need for a retrospective at all while some just can't find the time for one. But very frequently, we see teams that aren't getting the value they want to see out of their retrospectives, so they give up on them. Don't let it get to that point! Sprint retrospectives are underrated, and effective at building your team up and setting direction.
What is a Sprint Retrospective?
A sprint retrospective is a meeting at the end of the sprint meant for reflection and is a time to celebrate jobs well done, identify mistakes, and find ways to improve your agile team's processes. This is crucial to the work an agile team does because it creates a safe space for transparency within the team. It's a chance to offer high-fives, lend an ear, and most importantly, create change.
Who Should Be at Sprint Retrospectives?
Simply put, the Scrum Team should be there! Sprint retrospectives are led by the Scrum Master, who is oftentimes the Product Owner when resources are limited and a blended role is necessary to take place. Take a look at this graphic depicting the Scrum Team, made by Visual Paradigm.
How Long Does a Sprint Retrospective Take?
Sprint retrospectives take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the duration of a sprint. Our team of Product Owners and Agile Product Managers are usually part of teams that run in one-week sprints, where the sprint retrospective meeting would be 45 minutes. As a rule of thumb, sprint retrospectives should be no longer than 3 hours.
Common Signs of Failing Spring Retrospectives
Scrum masters, product owners, and agile product managers - listen up! If the sprint retrospective utopia mentioned above doesn't feel reminiscent of the last retrospective you had, it might be time to change things up a bit.
1. Team members are not participating.
If all or some of your team members are not participating, you're definitely missing out on important insights. Each member's feedback and thoughts are important to the overall success of the retrospective.
2. Problems aren't being addressed or solved.
If feedback is being shared in your retrospective, but your team doesn't feel acknowledged, they might shy away from giving it in the future thinking that nothing will be done. It is important for your team to feel heard in your retrospective and see steps toward improvement.
3. Your team doesn't feel comfortable sharing difficult information/feedback.
If your team expresses discomfort in sharing issues with the rest of the team, you could be missing crucial feedback that could make a difference in your team's productivity. This could be a sign that you need to try an anonymous retrospective or ask your team what could help them feel comfortable.
4. There is no room for celebration.
Retrospectives are not just a time for hearing grievances and solving problems. They're also a time to celebrate your team's wins. It's much easier to be vulnerable about misses when you're getting credit for your successes.
How To Improve Sprint Retrospectives
If you feel like your retrospective is going stale, don’t worry! Here are some ways we love to jazz up our retrospective to keep on celebrating wins, identifying opportunities, and sharing feedback.
1. Ask direct questions and stay on topic.
Open forums have their place, but sprint retrospectives should be structured. There are many ways to ask questions in a retrospective, but ultimately, you want to know what went well, what went poorly, and what could be improved.
2. Time box your questions.
Time boxing questions/topics can help people get out of their heads. Once they get started, it's much easier to keep going. It also ensures you have time to get to every topic and get as much information as possible. Each section/topic of a retrospective is equally important and should be given proper time.
3. Lead by example.
Sometimes the best gift you can give your team is the gift of going first. Come into the retrospective with thoughts to help your team get unstuck if needed. This can be especially important in the "what went well" portion of the retrospective. Your team will appreciate you acknowledging their wins.
4. Use the time to solve problems and create action items.
Your team seeing change coming from retrospectives shows the value of the meeting on the calendar. In order for that change to happen, you have to make sure feedback is being addressed and resolved when possible. Create space for them to brainstorm solutions and help hold them accountable to their actions.
5. Give your team something to take away.
Once your action items are created, share them with the team so that they have something to look back on for lessons learned and ways to move forward.
6. Share responsibility.
Sometimes giving each team member a chance to run a retrospective can help bring a fresh perspective to the meeting. It also can help encourage their future participation once they know how awkward it is to be waiting for someone to write or say something during the meeting.
7. Don't stick with what's not working.
Overall, if you can tell your retrospective isn't working, try something new! You can try a new tool, a new method, a new set of questions, a new person facilitating, a new meeting cadence, etc. Just because one method doesn't work for you doesn't mean another won't.
Monitoring the effectiveness of your sprint retrospectives can easily get lost in the list of to-do’s, but by consistently seeking ways to improve, your team will be more efficient, identify more product opportunities, and find solutions to issues existing in the workflow or product itself.