Monday, December 18, 2017

Techniques for an efficient agile retrospective

Inspect and adapt processes is a practice known for a long time and, even today, used by many companies to ensure continuous improvement. It is common, at the end of traditional projects, for the team to meet, together with management, to capture lessons learned in order to benefit future projects.

Although this approach is valid, it often happens that projects are totally different and teams are formed by other people. That is, the context is very different and you can not use the same path of success. In addition, the vast majority of projects usually take months or even years to complete.

These facts indicate that problems encountered over the course of the project will be raised and discussed only at the end, that is, when the project is over and nothing more can be done.

Often, people no longer remember the troubles that happened during the earlier development period. Others remember, but do not want to upset their colleagues or the management and end up repressing the information.

Agile methods often work on short cycles, delivering incremental parts of the product and not just at the end of the project. Retrospectives were adapted to occur at the end of each of these cycles. This is why it is so important because it is possible to reflect over short periods of time and not only when the project is over.

Conducting Retrospectives

Basically, in a retrospective the team stops and analyzes their way of working. There are several ways of conducting retrospectives, the most common of which is the discussion of the following three points:

  • What went well in the sprint? This question helps team members recognize and share the good points, that is, good practices that they should continue to apply in the next sprints.
  • What did not go well in the sprint? Here members are encouraged to look at difficult challenges they faced and obstacles they encountered.
  • What actions can we take so that problems do not recur? This question allows ideas to be raised for improvement actions in order not to go through the same problem.

Reflecting on days or weeks of work brings a lot of benefits to the project and to the people who work on it.

Perhaps, the biggest advantage of doing this reflection in short periods of time, is that the memory is still fresh. If something was bothering anyone, he or she probably still remembers it well. As the project is still in progress, this discomfort can be reported and resolved for the continuation of the project.

The same is true for good practices used by team members. If it is considered beneficial to the project, it can be adopted by the entire team to improve the progress of the project.

Another important factor in hindsight in agile projects is that after the problems and obstacles have been raised, action plans are drawn up for them, by the team itself. This means that the team analyzes what happened, defines the actions and then performs on them themselv. Since it was the team that defined the actions, the commitment is much greater than if they were imposed by management.

By being a staff-only meeting, people tend to feel safer and more comfortable talking freely about their frustrations. In addition, retrospectives tend to discuss problems without raising guilt or making accusations. For this reason, it is important to focus on resolving these barriers and dividing responsibilities among team members so that changes will actually happen.

A key point is the learning obtained in retrospectives. The learning culture germinates the moment a team realizes its deficiencies and begins to take regular steps towards improvement. Implementing improvement practices is necessary so that team members do not repeat the same mistakes in the future. They evolve as individuals and contribute as better team players.

It is also very valuable to capture the positive aspects, that is, all that was good. Recognize hard work, identify and share successful practices so that they continue to be applied by the team.

Continuing practice of retrospectives results in finding more efficient ways of working and delivering better value to customers. With every retrospective the team grows and improves their efficiency. 

It is worth mentioning that there are many teams that ignore retrospectives in order not to waste time. However, ignoring the Retrospective meeting causes the feedback to not be shared between the team, leaving no chance for improvements that the team could work on.

How to structure an efficient retrospective

First meeting point

Each team member notes on post-its the strengths and weaknesses of a sprint.

Different colors can be used to differentiate positive points from negative points.

The Scrum Master is responsible for giving a time limit so that the team is focused on the objective of individually evaluating what it considered good and what it considered bad in the sprint in evaluation. 10 minutes is a good time to keep the team focused on this first stage of the meeting. Of course we devalue the time required in function of the total time that was stipulated for the retrospective.

Second meeting point

Each team member presents the positive points he or she has raised and the team discusses them.

After all the positive points have been presented, all of the team's negative points are presented one by one and the team evaluates them and tries to come up with a solution for each one.

The Scrum Master supports the team to focus on the main objective of the meeting: Raise solutions for improvements.

The importance of providing solutions to problems

It is no use for the team to discuss the whole meeting about  problems of a sprint and to end it without any proposed solution to them. The problems will remain. The Scrum Master should lead the team so that at the end of the meeting there are concrete solutions to what will be done to improve each negative point. 

Of course realizing that the team is not mature yet the Scrum Master can propose ideas for the team to work on, discuss and improve them according to what the team judges best for the improvement of their work.


If you were to remember just one thing from this blog article, it should be that restropective meetings are important to grow your team and improve their efficiency in their current and future projects. The second most important point is that your retrospectives should have a clear structure and be directed towards identifying and discussing actionable ideas for improvement.