What’s Agile Retrospective? (Ultimate Guide)

Curious about the Agile retrospective meeting?

Just like the other Agile meetings, a retrospective meeting helps an Agile team build products that customers genuinely love.

But how is an Agile retrospective different from the rest?

Don’t worry.

In this article, we’ll answer that question. 

You’ll learn what an Agile retrospective is, its benefits, and the steps to conduct one easily. We’ll also give you some tips to help you have effective retrospective meetings.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get rolling! 

What’s the Agile Methodology?

Note: This section is for those who aren’t familiar with the Agile practice. If you only want to learn about Agile retrospective meetings directly, click here to jump to the section covering it.

Agile is a modern project management approach where you split large projects into short development cycles known as sprints

During each sprint or iteration, the Agile team develops some product features, and once the sprint is over, they submit that version to the stakeholders for review. The stakeholders then give their feedback, which is implemented during the next sprint

Eventually, after all the sprints, you’ll develop a product that’s exactly what your stakeholders want. 😍

This is sorta like cooking an amazing dish. 

You focus on some ingredients (features) during each step (sprint) and perform taste tests (feedback) to ensure that the dish is truly fantastic! 

Provided you know what you’re doing, of course.

woman opening oven on fire

To avoid such disastrous results, an Agile team must follow the Agile Manifesto

What’s the Agile Manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto is the guiding document (aka cookbook) for the Agile methodology. It outlines 4 values and 12 principles that help teams adopt the Agile practice correctly.

In the manifesto, the 12th Agile principle states:

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

And the Agile retrospective meeting is where you can do that!

What’s the Agile Retrospective?

The Agile retrospective is an Agile ceremony where teams analyze their performance in the last sprint to learn how to become more effective in the next sprint

Held after each sprint is complete (and before the next sprint planning), the entire team steps out of the work bubble to figure out what’s working and what’s not. 

Sure, you’ll discuss issues that happened in the last sprint

But this doesn’t mean that you should point fingers or throw a dance battle to prove your point!

Agile retrospectives are friendly, positive discussions where the whole team huddles to determine how to work better together in the upcoming sprint. The whole point is for members to learn from each other and brainstorm solutions together. 

This way, a retrospective meeting (also known as a sprint retrospective, sprint retro, or Scrum retrospective) aids the continuous improvement of work processes and products.

A. How long is an Agile retrospective meeting?

For a four-week long sprint, the sprint retro should take no more than three hours. 

For a shorter iteration, it can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. 

But that’s it. Don’t spend too long on these meetings.

You don’t want to spend hours at a meeting when you’ve deadlines to meet, right?

B. Who attends it?

The entire team, including the Agile coach/Scrum master and the product owner, attend the sprint retrospective. Usually, either the product owner or the Agile coach/Scrum master facilitates this Agile ceremony.

Why Conduct Agile Retrospectives?

Retrospectives help teams inspect previous sprints and adapt themselves for continuous improvement

But is it the only reason to conduct Agile retrospectives?

That’s like saying the only reason to visit Disneyland is to see Mickey Mouse! 👀

storm troopers and darth vader at disneyland

A retrospective session also helps:

  • Identify risk factors at an early stage
  • Facilitate team-building sessions as everyone comes together to brainstorm solutions
  • Foster a culture of ownership as team members share views and admit mistakes
  • Celebrate success and motivate the Agile or Scrum team to perform well
  • Improve customer value through continuous process improvement
  • Set the stage for the next iteration planning meeting 

However, to experience all these benefits, you need to conduct the sprint retrospective meeting properly. 

Let’s find out how to do that…

The 5 Steps in an Agile Retrospective 

Running a sprint retrospective is no biggie. 

You only need to go through these five simple steps:

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather data
  3. Brainstorm idea
  4. Decide what to do
  5. Close the meeting

Here’s a closer look at each phase:

Step 1: Set the stage

Let’s face it: we’d rather think about other stuff, like which Netflix show to watch later, than focus on a boring meeting. 😴

So if you want to have an effective Agile retrospective meeting, you need to set the stage by engaging the project team.

How do you do that?

For starters, appreciate the team’s performance in the last sprint. Even if it wasn’t a super-successful sprint, commending them for the work done will surely set a positive mood. 

But merely starting the meeting by praising each other may feel hollow or simply, awkward. 

corporate people frowning laughing

So it’s best to use a retrospective technique, like the Niko-Niko calendar or team morale questionnaire, to naturally initiate such conversations. Use a different icebreaker each time to spice up your retrospectives easily.  

And once you’ve “broken the ice”, clarify the retrospective meeting agenda for the project team.

Sure, everyone knows that the purpose of the meeting is to review the last sprint, but be more specific by focusing on some specific aspects.

You can also remind them of the general guidelines to be followed:

  • Listen to each member’s views with an open mind
  • Don’t take any opinion personally or openly criticize someone
  • Be honest about what worked/didn’t work in the last sprint

However, don’t waste too much time spreading good vibes; you’ve important things to discuss!

Step 2: Gather data

In this retrospective stage, you start painting a picture of the last sprint

And while an Agile sprint is a short development cycle, there are tons of actions that can happen during one. So you need to gather data about what happened in the sprint before inspecting it.

This could be anything from action items completed to new software implemented during that iteration. If you’re using a project management tool, you can also use data from the reports it generates.

Additionally, you can ask the project team various questions like the 4Ls:

  • What did you like about this sprint?
  • What did you learn?
  • What was lacking?
  • What do you long for as a team?

This gives you better insights than from asking a basic question like what went well or what went wrong. 

But verbal reporting isn’t the only method you can use in a retrospective session

Tools like whiteboards and Scrum boards can also be used to present the collected data to the attendees. 

This makes it easier to discuss the last sprint

Plus, who doesn’t like visuals?

Step 3: Brainstorm ideas

Having identified the shortfalls, you now break it down to determine the root cause of each problem.

And the easiest way to do that is by taking each problem and asking more questions, like:

  • Did you understand the task fully before doing it?
  • How and when did it go wrong?
  • Which methods weren’t useful?

Feels like you’re asking too many questions?

Don’t worry. 

Asking questions is one of the easiest ways to analyze any problem. 

Just remember to ask the right ones and in a calm manner.

woman saying google eliminated the need to ask questions

Brainstorm each situation and break it down as clearly as possible. And in the case of unexpected shortfalls, the Agile team should assess the factors and risks surrounding it. This helps you determine potential solutions from various perspectives.

However, remember that the first solution isn’t necessarily the best one. 

Step 4: Decide what to do

Once the team has agreed on the best potential solutions, narrow it down to the top two or three that you could implement in the upcoming sprint

A fun retrospective exercise that can help you out here is dot voting

Create action items (what should be done) out of the top solutions your team picks. 

However, ensure that each action item is:

  • Small: to help achieve it without risking future sprint activities
  • Actionable: team must be able to perform it
  • Visible: use a project management tool or whiteboard to ensure that the action item doesn’t go unnoticed

You can also assign each action item to a specific member, to ensure that it’s implemented.

During the upcoming sprint planning meeting, use the list of action items to quickly plan how to improve that sprint. 

A good retrospective idea is to conduct the meeting a few hours before the sprint planning on the same day. This helps teams make a seamless transition between the meetings.

Step 5: Close the meeting

You can’t disperse any meeting without a proper closing, right?

Once the discussion is over, wrap up the sprint retro meeting by:

  • Summarizing the whole meeting to ensure that everyone’s on the same page about what was discussed
  • Clarifying action items and their assigned owners
  • Asking for feedback about the retrospective to identify what to improve in the next one (basically a retrospective of the retrospective meeting). 

And of course, don’t forget to thank your team members for attending the meeting. 

A little gratitude goes a long way in building a good team


4 Tips to Have an Excellent Project Retrospective

What’s the worst that could happen in an Agile retrospective?

The sprint retrospective meeting turning into a complaint session! 

Not only will it limit productive discussions, but it’ll also harm team morale, which can have severe consequences in the long run.

So just knowing the retrospective stages isn’t enough; you must also know how to conduct the meeting properly.

So here are four simple tips to help you have excellent project retrospective meetings:

Tip #1: Create the right environment  

Completing each sprint can be as challenging and tiring as fighting Lord Voldemort.

voldemort and harry wand battle

So your team could still be trapped in the work bubble even when the Agile development stage is over. For an effective retrospective meeting, they need to come out of this bubble.

But this doesn’t mean that they should forget everything about the sprint, as that’ll only make things harder.

The idea is to help them transition from the sprint’s development stage to the retrospective stage comfortably. 

Some ways a retrospective facilitator (Agile coach or Scrum master) could do this are:

  • Encourage team members to participate, don’t force them
  • Choose a suitable environment according to the sprint outcome and the team’s mindset. For example, if it was an unsuccessful sprint, you could take the retrospective outdoors to give everyone some fresh air.
  • Create a safe space for team members to ventilate their thoughts about the sprint
  • Don’t involve upper management in the sprint retrospective meeting unless it’s necessary. Their mere presence could deter the team from talking about the problems they face.

Tip #2: Don’t turn it into a complaint session

Sure, a retrospective provides the perfect opportunity to vent your frustrations about the sprint

But nobody wants it to turn into a war-like situation!

Remember, not everyone complains with bad intentions; they may have some valid reason. However, the problem starts when the complainee goes on the defensive and counter-attacks the complainant.  

Instead, ask team members to raise their opinions with friendlier expressions like “I wish”. 

I wish I’d received more support from “X” is better than saying “X” didn’t give me any support.

Clarify at the start of the Agile ceremony that everyone’s opinion is valid, and members should listen with an open mind.

Tip #3: The retrospective facilitator must be experienced

What happens to a ship without an experienced captain?

There won’t be clarity about the ship’s course or the crew’s responsibilities, which could lead to disastrous situations.

Similarly, without an experienced retrospective facilitator, the meeting’s going to be a hot mess. 

So while all the previous points are important, this is the most essential one. 

Ideally, the facilitator should have the skills and expertise to lead the meeting. They can also undergo training from groups like The Agile Coaching Institute or The International Association of Facilitators.

However, facilitators shouldn’t make any final decisions as that rests with the whole team. They should only help the team weigh the pros and cons of each retrospective idea, guiding them to the best possible solutions.

Tip #4: Use a powerful project management tool

Remember how project management software can help you gather data in step 2?

But that’s just the tip of what such tools offer. 

Additionally, project management tools help you handle everything from project planning and collaboration. So with a reliable tool, the retrospective facilitator and the team members can have effective project meetings easily.

But when you have hundreds of project management tools available, which one do you go for?

The answer is simple…  The best one in the world: ClickUp!

Wait, what’s ClickUp?

clickup devices

ClickUp is the world’s #1 Agile project management software

Whether you want to plan projects or conduct a remote retrospective over a Zoom call, ClickUp has got you covered!

So here’s a quick look at how it helps you have effective retrospective meetings:

1. Goals to conquer your sprints

A sprint is sorta like going on a team adventure.

hobbit going on an adventure

And just like how each adventure has a goal, each sprint has a specific sprint goal. 

During a sprint retro, your team can discuss if you’ve achieved the goal, and if not, what you should change in the next iteration.

But how do you know if you’re on the right track in the first place?

With ClickUp’s Goals feature!

In ClickUp, Goals are high-level containers that you can break down into smaller, achievable Targets. For example, if your Goal is “develop a VR game”, your Targets can be “design 3D models” and “finalize UI”.

To achieve a Goal, simply complete these Targets. ClickUp will auto-update the overall progress percentage according to your progress, giving you an accurate estimate of how close you’re to your Goal.

For better flexibility, you can choose from various Target types like:

  • True/False: the outcome is either True or False
  • Number: use any value from zero to infinity
  • Tasks: to achieve the Target, you need to complete specific tasks
  • Currency: set an amount of money (best for project budget goals)
goals in clickup

2. Keep track of your team’s activity levels with Pulse 

How cool would it be if you could know how active your team is on a given day?

Luckily, you don’t need some alien technology for that. 

Just use ClickUp’s Pulse feature! 😎

Pulse uses machine learning to know which tasks your in-house or distributed team is most focused on at the moment. It then auto-generates activity reports for your entire team that help you see where time is being spent.

pulse dashboard in clickup

Some cool stuff you can do with Pulse include:

  • Determine your team’s busy hours during a day
  • See who’s online/offline
  • View trending tasks for each member
  • Know what tasks members are viewing/commenting for real-time collaboration
  • Automate Agile meetings easily
  • Make sure that everyone is aligned on priorities

With Pulse on your side, you can even access activity reports for your remote team, making retrospective meetings even more easier.

But these aren’t all of ClickUp’s features!

For maximum flexibility, this project management tool offers a wide variety of features, including:


An Agile retrospective meeting isn’t just another dull meeting that you can ignore or skip.

It provides the perfect opportunity for teams to take a break, reflect, and adapt their processes for continuous improvement. Additionally, they’re excellent team-building sessions for any Agile team.

However, all this depends on how well the retrospective meeting is conducted. 

Use the steps and tips we covered here to start your retrospective session on the right note. And with a powerful tool like ClickUp, Agile project management becomes a cakewalk!

From analyzing your remote team’s productivity to helping you with Agile transformation, ClickUp can handle whatever you throw at it.

Sign up today and take your Agile meetings and projects to the next level! 🚀

man saying next level

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