No matter the field of work, from time to time, everyone needs to pause, reflect, and look back at what they’ve done to gain insight into their accomplishments. If you’re a team that has embraced the Agile methodology, the insight you’ll benefit from the most is the Agile retrospective.
The Agile retrospective is highly valued and important as a “tool” that is used in various industries, and together with other phases, yields excellent results. Among other Agile phases, the Agile retrospective is the most crucial, and once you read this article, you will discover exactly why.
So, let’s get started!
What is an Agile Retrospective?
The Agile retrospective is a meeting where the entire Scrum team (product owner, Scrum master, and employees) and the project manager actively participate. During this retrospective meeting, the team will focus on three key Agile retrospective questions:
- What they have done in that sprint cycle (the achieved results).
- Where it went wrong.
- How they can improve in the next sprint cycle.
Thanks to its benefits, the Agile methodology has developed several frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and others, all of which are based on the principles expressed in the Agile Manifesto.
Scrum is certainly one of the most prevalent Agile frameworks, based on sprint cycles lasting two to four weeks, with each sprint consisting of four phases:
- Sprint planning
- Sprint execution (daily scrum)
- Sprint review
- Sprint retrospective a.k.a. Scrum retrospective
If we observe the sequence of phases, the retrospective is the final phase that aims to bring together everything that the team has accomplished. During the retrospective, the Scrum team seeks to draw conclusions about what is necessary to increase process efficiency and implement those conclusions in the next sprint.
The significance of the Agile or Scrum retrospective is that it provides valuable conclusions not only for sprints but for the project as a whole. Professionals attach great importance to this meeting because without a retrospective, there is no conclusion, and without a conclusion and its implementation, there is no progress.
The Importance of Agile Retrospective
Agile retrospective is valuable because it opens the way for constant improvement. This is how it works:
- Reflection and Learning: We gain clarity and insight into our actions by consistently reviewing our work and reflecting on our accomplishments. Agile retrospective allows us to identify mistakes and areas for improvement and learn from them. With this knowledge, we can react effectively when similar situations arise.
- Process and Team Improvement: Looking back at our past work, we can analyze our processes, tools, and program utilization. Obtained results can further help identify measures whose implementation will impact process improvement and the optimal use of tools and programs.
- Adaptation and Agility: A crucial aspect of retrospective is adapting and making changes based on evolving demands and market dynamics. By continuously evaluating our work, we can proactively adjust our approaches, ensuring we remain Agile and responsive to change. That allows us to constantly refine our practices through effective change management and increase our agility.
Agile Retrospective Meeting Agenda
Careful organization and planning are crucial in any organization, whether a project or a team-building endeavor. The same stands for organizing Agile retrospective meetings.
Here is a structured outline of the key steps in an Agile retrospective meeting agenda:
- Meeting Time: Collaboratively determine a suitable date for all participants to attend the Agile retrospective meeting. When selecting the date, consider conducting the retrospective after completing several sprints to have the necessary data for further steps.
- Gathering Data: After establishing the meeting date, the next step is to collect and document all relevant data for the Agile retrospective. This involves the optimal functioning of the document management system, i.e., the ability to efficiently handle information about completed sprints, sprint goals, task completion status, customer feedback, survey results, and more.
- Brainstorming Ideas: Encourage active participation from all team members involved in the work activities to share their perspectives on the work process, alignment with goals, achieved results, and any deviations. This stage is crucial for generating various action proposals to enhance work and drive progress.
- Action Items: Following the brainstorming session, prioritize and select the most impactful and relevant actions to implement in the upcoming sprint. By consolidating ideas and aligning them with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals, the team can identify actionable steps for improvement.
- Closing the Meeting: Conclude by confirming the chosen actions and articulating the rationale behind each decision. In addition to specifying the action items, it is essential to define teams’ roles and responsibilities in the following actions, establish deadlines, and agree on a method for monitoring and measuring the impact of the proposed improvements.
A look at the following Agile retrospective example can help you visualize the flow of the meeting:
Scenario: A software development team recently adopted Agile practices and held their first retrospective.
#1. Step 1—What went well:
- Completed all user stories.
- Daily stand-ups improved team communication.
#2. Step 2—What could have gone better:
- Need clearer sprint goals.
- Enhance the code review process.
#3. Step 3—Action items:
- Define sprint goals more explicitly.
- Implement stricter code review guidelines.
#4. Step 4—Outcome:
- In the next sprint, clearer goals led to better focus and improved code quality.
5 Agile Retrospective Techniques
An Agile retrospective meeting is not an ordinary meeting; it is more valuable. The Scrum team needs to ensure that new knowledge is adopted and that they will apply it in the next sprint to improve results.
We have prepared a list of five Agile retrospective techniques to make the meeting the most effective. Let’s see what each means and which of them suits your team.
The sailboat retrospective technique turns your team into a crew sailing toward a sunny island, representing a shared goal. They imagine themselves on a sailboat and think about what went well and what could be done better in the next run.
The method looks at important parts of the trip. The endpoint represents success, and the wind represents the forces that push the team forward. The anchor is a sign of possible problems that could get in the way, and the rocks are signs of risks and traps to watch out for. On the other hand, the sun stands for good things and successes.
By going on this metaphorical journey, teams learn useful things that help them improve their Agile journey and face obstacles more confidently.
4Ls is a visual technique representing what team members loved, loathed, learned, and longed for in a project or sprint of work. Four fields are drawn on a board for each L category, and team members comment on each.
This technique allows every team member to see their colleagues’ thoughts, communicate, and broaden their perspectives.
#3. Lean Coffee
This is a very simple technique that can always take on different forms because it’s not so formal, and it consists of the following phases:
- Preparation: The Scrum master creates a table divided into three sections: To Discuss, Discussing, and Discussed.
- Ideation: Team members engage in a rapid brainstorming session, privately documenting their ideas on sticky notes.
- Grouping: Team members take a few minutes to cluster similar ideas together, which helps identify common threads and overarching concepts.
- Dot Voting: Team members collectively determine the most important topics by counting the times each idea is repeated and ensuring that the most significant topics are given priority for discussions.
- Discussion: The whole Scrum team engages in conversation about the chosen topic, exploring different perspectives, sharing insights, and collectively deciding on the next steps.
#4. Start, Stop, Continue
This technique is valuable to evaluate and enhance business processes or Agile projects. It involves categorizing ideas, feedback, and actions into three columns, namely:
- Start: In the start column, you identify new ideas and suggestions to improve the business process or project.
- Stop: This column helps eliminate unproductive and detrimental practices that may hinder progress. It targets actions that consume excessive time and money with little reward.
- Continue: The continue column consists of actions and ideas that produced positive results in previous iterations or projects, and the team should continue to implement them.
The Starfish retrospective helps teams reflect on specific actions and practices. It goes beyond the traditional what went well approach. The exercise consists of five sections:
- Keep doing: energizing and valuable actions
- Less Of: refining unhelpful practices
- More Of: underutilized practices
- Stop Doing: eliminating non-value-added activities
- Start Doing: introducing new ideas
By following this order, teams can maintain positivity, address issues, and take affirmative action.
Agile Retrospective Best Practices
- Give everyone a chance to speak their mind: Every individual within the organization contributes to its overall results. Therefore, allow each person to express their views during the retrospective. This approach ensures a comprehensive understanding of the process from various perspectives, which is crucial for evaluating actions.
- Document everything being said: Maintain written records of the actions taken and the discussions and ideas exchanged. This documentation is important for tracking the progress of work processes and the implementation of decisions made during the retrospective.
- Create a safe environment for people to share: Foster open and healthy communication that facilitates knowledge exchange, expressing opinions, and sharing ideas. Encourage a culture where individuals are open to speaking their minds, as it creates a conducive environment for success.
- Come prepared: Active participation and sharing of insights from each team member are crucial for real progress. Encourage your team to come prepared for the Agile retrospective with the sprint results and ideas for improvement. Well-prepared retrospectives form a solid foundation for business growth.
- Focus on actionable items: Concentrate on the actions the team has decided upon for the upcoming sprint. Elaborate on these actions, assign roles and responsibilities, and ensure everyone understands the purpose and expected outcomes. Unclear objectives can lead to a lack of commitment and effectiveness.
- Continuously iterate and improve the retrospective process: During the implementation of the identified action, gather team feedback, monitor the process, and utilize the feedback to track progress and assess the employees’ effectiveness and the newly applied techniques.
Commitment to work responsibilities and active engagement are vital for attaining desired outcomes. However, the true path to success lies in the work itself and how it is approached and executed.
An exceptional outlook requires constant care and improvement, which Agile retrospectives demonstrate. So, to improve, remember to reflect on the past, evaluate completed work activities, and analyze the data.
Strive for excellence by remembering that retrospection provides valuable insights for individual sprints and the overall project.
Agile Retrospective FAQ
#1. What is an action plan, and how do you build it?
An action plan is a set of specific tasks or steps determined during the retrospective to address areas for improvement. It is built by identifying actionable items, assigning responsibilities, setting deadlines, and tracking progress.
#2. How often should you have Agile retrospectives?
Agile retrospectives should ideally be conducted at the end of each sprint or iteration, allowing teams to reflect on their work and continuously improve regularly.
#3. What is the goal of an Agile retrospective?
An Agile retrospective aims to foster a culture of learning and improvement within the team. It seeks to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth, enabling the team to enhance its processes, collaboration, and overall performance.
#4. Who should facilitate an Agile retrospective?
Various individuals, including team members, Scrum Masters, or Agile coaches, can facilitate the Agile retrospective. The facilitator should ensure a safe environment, guide discussions, and encourage active participation from all team members.
#5. How is an Agile retrospective different from a regular meeting?
An Agile retrospective differs from a regular meeting in its specific focus on reflection and improvement. It is dedicated to evaluating past work, identifying areas for growth, and defining actionable steps to enhance future performance rather than discussing ongoing tasks or general updates.