Understanding Sprint Retrospectives (Ultimate Guide)
Ready to learn about sprint retrospectives?
While Scrum sprints are incredibly effective at building amazing products, they can always be improved.
The sprint retrospective meeting is where Scrum teams figure out how to perform even better!
Don’t worry; this isn’t another boring board meeting!
The retrospective gives you an opportunity to reflect on each sprint’s journey. And if done right, this meeting can help teams improve and ultimately guide them in the right direction.
So what’s the sprint retrospective?
More importantly, how’s it carried out?
This article covers everything you need to know about sprint retrospective meetings to help you conquer your sprints.
Let’s get rolling.
What is the Scrum project management framework?
Before diving into what sprint retrospective is, we’ll quickly dash through Agile and Scrum to know what they’re all about.
Note: This section is for people who aren’t familiar with the Scrum and Agile frameworks. If you only want to learn about the Agile retrospective meeting, click here to jump to that section.
Agile is a broad project management framework that Scrum is based on. It divides the project into short development cycles called sprints, each lasting for about 2–4 weeks. During each sprint, the team works on different sections of the same project.
Tip: If you’re looking to adapt to changing project needs, you need to understand Agile and Scrum properly. The best place to start is by going through the Agile Manifesto and our detailed guides on the Scrum and Agile methodology.
And while all that sounds very complex, it isn’t.
Don’t believe us?
Here’s an example summarizing how it works:
Let’s say you’re developing a dating app.
In traditional project development, you could spend months planning and developing it only to find that your customers are unhappy with some features.
They wanted an AI feature that helps them write great bios based on their interests.
(I mean seriously, why is writing a bio harder than writing a thesis on astrophysics?!)
But instead of that lifesaver, you gave them an endless list of matchmaking filters.
However, if you had used the Scrum Agile methodology, you could have avoided all those nasty customer comments.
You would have developed the software in stages (sprints), got your customers’ feedback after each stage and changed features accordingly before moving on.
Thrilled customers who don’t have to spend hours writing a 100-word bio!
But wait, there’s some more learning to do!
Scrum isn’t just about breaking down projects; you also have various team roles and Agile meetings (the sprint retrospective is one of them).
So to understand Scrum better, here’s a quick overview of these concepts.
Don’t worry, we’ll fast-track through them.
A. Scrum Roles
- Product Owner: understands stakeholder needs and relays their feedback to the team members
- Scrum Master: helps the team understand the Scrum and Agile frameworks according to the Scrum Guide and Agile Manifesto
- Development Team: develops the product in each sprint and delivers it to the stakeholders
Tip: The product owner, Scrum master and developers can take Scrum certification courses to adopt the Scrum and Agile frameworks perfectly.
B. Scrum Events
Scrum events are Agile meetings that help teams plan and assess their work processes. It includes:
- Sprint Planning: the team outlines the work to be carried out in a sprint
- Daily Scrum Meetings: members meet to discuss the project progress every day
- Sprint Review: done after each sprint to demo the increment and get feedback from the stakeholders
Wait, what about the retrospective meeting… that’s why you’re here reading this article, right?
Don’t worry, we’re finally here!
What is the sprint retrospective?
The sprint retrospective is a meeting where teams inspect the past sprint for improving work processes in the upcoming sprint.
Held after your team completes each sprint, the Agile retrospective meeting helps teams:
- Take stock of their performance in the last sprint
- Decide what to change in the next sprint
- Chalk out a plan to adapt the project accordingly
The quickest way to discuss these points is to ask questions like:
- What was great about this sprint?
- What didn’t work well in the process?
- What do you think we can improve?
You can use these questions when planning your sprint retrospective agenda to help you quickly decide how to improve the next sprint.
Who attends the sprint retrospective meeting?
All the Scrum team members, including the product owner and Scrum master, attend the meeting. Usually, the product owner or the Scrum master facilitates the meeting.
How long is it?
The duration of this meeting depends on various factors, like:
- how long the sprint was
- how large the team is
- is it a collocated team (if all team members are in the same physical location)
However, it’s usually anywhere between a 45-minute to a 3-hour meeting.
That’s pretty short, right?
It is… but do you really want to spend an entire day eating takeout Chinese food and going over what went wrong over the last few weeks instead of just working on your new tasks?
Didn’t think so.
Here’s a quick chart most Scrum teams use to time their retrospectives:
|Sprint Duration||Sprint Retrospective Duration|
|1 week||45 mins|
|2 weeks||1.5 hrs|
|3 weeks||2.25 hrs|
|4 weeks||3 hours|
How is a retrospective meeting different from a sprint review?
Most people often confuse sprint retrospectives and sprint reviews because:
- both are held after the sprint is over
- both have confusingly similar names
However, they’re entirely different Agile meetings.
It’s like comparing DC to Marvel — they may look similar, but they’re totally different!
Here’s how a Scrum retrospective meeting is different from a review meeting:
|Sprint Review||Sprint Retrospective|
How to run an effective sprint retrospective – 5 steps
Let’s now cover what goes into a retrospective meeting.
Usually, a sprint retrospective goes through five processes:
Here’s a closer look at each process:
Step 1: Set the stage
If you want to have an effective discussion, all your team members must be able to voice their ideas and opinions.
The first step in running an Agile sprint retrospective is creating a safe and open space for discussions. Here, you’re basically trying to set the stage.
This also helps people focus on the meeting agenda and not on anything else.
Chances are, your members were working on something else before the meeting. For example, they could be wondering about really important stuff like choosing a burger place for dinner or what Netflix movie they’re going to watch in the evening!
Having an intro before the actual discussion helps them focus on reviewing the past sprint. You mention the sprint retrospective agenda and also announce how long the meeting is going to be.
It’s also the perfect place to present the meeting guidelines.
You can ask members to:
- share what they felt about the previous sprint
- not take any opinion personally or blame each other
- listen to suggestions with an open mind
Here’s a tip to get everyone talking (yes, even the introverts):
Ask each member to describe the sprint in three words. Since it’s just three words, everyone has to get involved in the process!
Step 2: Gather the data
You can’t review processes without having some data about those processes, right?
That’d be like trying to bake a cake without an oven.
I mean, you could try… but it’s not going to end well!
In this meeting stage, you gather all the data about the past sprint and jot them down on a whiteboard or Scrum board.
But how do you find this data?
Use the reports generated by project management tools to take stock of your team’s performance and other data.
Once the data’s ready, you need to collaborate with your team and discuss it briefly.
Here are some questions you could ask here:
- How many work processes were completed successfully?
- How did the team members contribute to the process?
- What could be improved in the next sprint?
- Which skill or knowledge was important during the sprint?
This way, all the team members get a shared view of the sprint to discuss things together. You can also take this opportunity to appreciate achievements to boost your team morale.
Which brings us to the next step…
Step 3: Generate insights
In this team exercise, you identify what went wrong in the sprint.
You need to find the root cause of any problem to arrive at its potential solutions, right?
However, don’t ask questions to assess the performance of a member. Instead, they must help identify ways to resolve any issue that popped up in the sprint.
You can pick a specific issue and ask questions like:
- How and when did it go wrong?
- Did you understand it well before doing the task?
- Which techniques weren’t helpful?
You can also use the 5 Whys or other retrospective meeting activities to make the discussion more engaging.
Step 4: Create action points
You now know what the issues were and their possible solutions. The next step is to decide what to do to avoid these problems in the next sprint.
Use your team’s suggestions to create a list of action points (what needs to be done).
You can use this list in the upcoming sprint planning meet to quickly plan how to improve that sprint.
However, here’re a few things to keep in mind when planning this list:
- Items must be actionable: team members must clearly understand what must be done
- They must be small: so that you can easily achieve them without jeopardizing the next sprint’s activities
- They must be visible: use a Scrum board or an online tool to ensure that the items are always on your team’s radar
But what if the solution isn’t the right one?
You won’t know that unless you try it out, right?
And that’s Scrum’s purpose — you try out techniques, identify how they could be improved and adapt accordingly!
Step 5: Wrap up
You identified issues, found possible solutions and had improvement discussions.
What’s left now?
Concluding the Agile retrospective meeting!
And how do you do that?
- Sum up what was achieved in the meeting
Quickly recap the whole meeting to ensure that everyone’s on the same page about the results (you can skim through the meeting agenda for this)
- Retrospect the retrospective meeting
Ask the members what they liked about this meeting to know what to change in the next Agile sprint retrospective
Seriously, it works!
- Thank team members for attending
Appreciate the members for attending the meeting. You can then close it and ask the team to resume their tasks
Voila! A successful Scrum retrospective meeting.
3 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
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.
The best way to streamline your retrospective meetings
In an Agile sprint retrospective, you analyze your team’s performance to identify improvements in the next sprint.
So the key to effective meetings is reliable performance data.
Without tracking your team members’ performance, you won’t be able to accurately know:
- if the Agile sprint goal was achieved
- which tasks were done and what’s left to be completed
- who worked on what tasks and for how long
Additionally, with companies going remote due to COVID-19, your team will be working from home!
So how to ensure that your meetings still run smoothly?
Use powerful project management tools like ClickUp that make Agile project management a piece-of-cake!
ClickUp is the world’s highest-rated Agile project management software. Used by 200,000+ teams in enterprise-level organizations, it helps project teams instantly adapt to Scrum and other Agile frameworks.
The best part?
It works as both an offline and an online tool to help teams plan activities and collaborate wherever they are!
How ClickUp helps you in sprint retrospective meetings?
ClickUp offers tons of detailed reports to gather data and generate insights for your Scrum retrospective meeting.
Here’s a closer look at some of these reports:
1. Task Completed Report
ClickUp’s Task Completed report displays which tasks were completed by each member. This helps you know if your team members are finishing what they started (I mean tasks, not the takeout.)
2. Worked On Report
The Worked On report highlights the total number of tasks each member has worked in a specific day, week or month. You’ll know who’s working the most and who has a lighter workload to balance out project responsibilities (and see who’s got time to plan the next office party.)
3. Workspace Points Report
Want to make your Scrum processes more interesting?
Use the Workspace Points report to gamify your project activities!
It highlights various metrics for each member, like:
- Cleared: the total number of task notifications cleared
- Comments added: the number of comments added to tasks
- Resolved Comments: the number of resolved comments
- Tasks Completed: the number of tasks completed and closed
- Worked on: the number of tasks they participated in
- Total Points: the sum of numbers from each column
You can use this to boost your team morale during project retrospectives.
Reward the member who scored the most points in a sprint!
4. Who’s Behind Report
Want to know which members need to step up their game?
ClickUp’s Who’s Behind report shows you just that!
It highlights which members have uncleared or “Work In Progress” tasks in the current sprint.
5. Time Tracked Report
Need to speed things up in the next Agile sprint?
The Time Tracked report shows you the total time tracked by each member during a sprint. You can also check the time tracking logs for each user to know if a task list is too time-consuming.
6. Time Estimated Report
The Time Estimated report shows you which tasks are taking longer to complete than expected. You can use this to identify bottlenecks that were present in the past sprint and make better estimates for future sprints.
ClickUp isn’t just a reporting tool.
It’s so, so much more…
You can also plan your agenda, collaborate on project processes and track them with features like:
- Sprint Lists: track each sprint’s progress accurately
- Priorities: know what tasks are important and attempt them first
- Agile Scrum Dashboards: get quick visual overviews of any Agile and Scrum project
- Collaboration Detection: know when others are working on the same task as you are
- Custom Statuses: create unique task stages according to your project needs
Click here to check out all the features of ClickUp!
(Since there are so many cool features, it’s going to take you a while to go through them… maybe not as much time as it took to finish The Irishman, but close.)
There’s always room for improvement in any Scrum team and the sprint retrospective provides the perfect opportunity to evaluate this.
It helps teams reflect on their work processes, celebrate successes and improve their next Agile sprint.
However, project retrospectives aren’t enough on their own.
You also need project management tools to help your team conquer their sprints!
So why not use a powerful Agile project management tool like ClickUp?
It has got tons of powerful features for all your project needs, like real-time team performance reports to help you during sprint retrospective meetings!
Sign up today and experience the power for yourself!