Scrum Retrospective: Format & Techniques

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

The Scrum process pushes for improved quality, not only in project work but also in project teams. Team improvement comes through retrospective meetings. Learn the format of and techniques for Scrum retrospective meetings.

Retrospectives Defined

In running a business, competing as an athlete, playing an instrument or anything else that you might do, you want to get better. There is always a next step or some room for improvement. The same is true in project work, specifically in Scrum, which is a form of Agile project methodology. While continuous improvement can take place at any time, the designated timeframe is in a retrospective meeting.

A retrospective meeting is a time set aside to discuss how a project team is performing, why the team is performing in this way, and how the team can improve. While improvement should be continuous, it is important to set aside time specifically for reflection. It occurs at the end of each cycle in which project work is completed, known as a sprint. It is often referred to as a lessons learned meeting. The intent is to be open, honest, and reflective with the goal of becoming better, both individually and collectively.

The meeting should include the product owner who requests the work and the development team who performs the work. It should also include the Scrum master whose responsibility is to help the development team complete the work efficiently and as requested. Each of these roles is vital to the meeting because each directly impacts the outcome of the project work in the sprint. The discussion in and takeaways from the meeting are for these individuals and should be determined by them. This results in taking ownership because the meeting is completely self-led by the team.

Format

The retrospective meeting format is one that should be a relaxed and safe environment where individuals can be honest. It is important that what is brought up in the meeting does not leave the meeting. Each person should be able to speak freely. The meeting is more valuable the more people participate. The discussion includes three areas that should be reviewed in some way:

  • What went well
  • What did not go well
  • What can be improved

The first area to discuss in the retrospective meeting is what went well during the sprint. This could be related to the work, the process or approach to the work, the team members, or any combination of these. The value in discussing this topic is twofold: it encourages and boosts the team and by naming areas of success, the team can identify ways to continue it or achieve it in other areas.

The next area to discuss is what did not go well during the sprint. The same topics are discussed as in the discussion of what went well. Honesty is vital to this area of discussion. If issues are not discussed, they cannot be addressed.

In order to create a safe environment, some teams use something called the prime directive, originated by Norm Kerth, that says, 'Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.' This reassures the team that the intent is not to assign blame but simply to have an open discussion about the things that were unsuccessful.

The final area to discuss involves improvements that can be made. This is a natural progression from the first two areas of discussion and one of the most important parts of retrospective. The goal of retrospective is to identify action items or takeaways that, when implemented, allow the team to improve upon the things that did not go well and maintain the things that did go well. It is important that the takeaways are within the team's control in some capacity. If the team cannot realistically take action on something, they will not be able to achieve improvement.

Techniques

The different areas of discussion should each be addressed to some extent in a retrospective meeting, but the ways in which they are addressed can vary from team to team. The individual facilitating the meeting, often the Scrum master, uses different techniques to engage the team based on the team's ability to communicate. The techniques for engagement can be grouped into low-level and high-level categories.

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