6 Effective Steps to a Successful Agile Retrospective

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6 Effective Steps to a Successful Agile Retrospective


Natasha Ghasi

Published November 11, 2022

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In the world of software developers and IT service providers, Agile methodologies are all the rage at the moment. Businesses globally have experienced growth after adopting an Agile culture. And success stories about how Agile has brought about growth are convincing enough for 88% of organizations to want to adopt Agile Methods since 2002. Scrum, the most well-known Agile methodology, is employed by 61% of businesses worldwide. And for good reason, because product quality has been seen to increase by up to 250% when Scrum is used to its full potential.

However, some businesses have failed in adopting the Agile culture. Among the various possible setbacks, the lack of prior knowledge of Agile techniques has brought on failure for around 44% of Agile projects. 

In Scrum, there are Scrum Artifacts and Scrum Ceremonies such as the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective that can play a vital role in the success of a project. And to guarantee that success, one must have a thorough understanding of these events, how to organize them, and ensure they are serving the purpose. 

Let's go over what is Agile Retrospective and explore the top tips to conduct an Agile Retrospective.

What is Agile Retrospective?

Each Sprint begins with a planning session where everyone gets together and plans on what is to be done. The development team has the last say on how much work can be realistically completed within the sprint, while the product owner has the final say on the conditions that must be met for the work to be approved and accepted. A Sprint goes on, get’s over and then an Agile Retrospective meeting is held at the end of the Sprint. 

Now that we’re familiar with Sprint Retrospective, which is also called Agile Retrospective, let's look deeper into how to run, organize and utilize it for the benefit of your team. 

Key Aspects of Agile Retrospective

A wise man (Carl Jung) said that “To ask the right question is already half the solution to a problem.” This a well-said quote that stands very true in the context of Agile Retrospective. A lot goes on when different team members are working on various tasks and keeping track of everything is a challenge. So the right questions should be asked to keep things transparent and clear for everyone on the same page.

Here are some questions that can give a better idea of the process:

  • What worked in this sprint has been done well?
  • What work wasn't done correctly?
  • What should we do first to get better?
  • What did we discover?
  • What should happen in the upcoming sprint?

Along with these, there are some other questions you can ask individuals to gauge how they are progressing:

  • How did this sprint go for you?
  • What is the largest obstacle you face?
  • What would you change, if you could make one change?
  • Which methods or instruments proved to be effective? Which did not?
  • From whom are you expecting and what?
  • What caused this to work (or not work) for you?
  • What makes a task priority in your opinion?

The trick is to choose questions that give the team insight into the primary/urgent problems and improvement potential. During the retrospective, the questions can be altered if need be.

6 Steps to a Successful Agile Retrospective

Here, we'll go over the 6 basic steps of an Agile Retrospective, which include all the factors you should take into account while planning one. This is a primary or general approach, but you may always change it to suit your team's needs. Start with the basics if you're new to running agile retrospectives. You'll eventually realize what works best for your team and project.

Step 1 - Prep work is important

If you think Agile Retrospectives are something that you can get away with doing just the bare minimum or winging it, you’re wrong. An Agile Retrospective is no different from other meetings, which means it requires you to go over the notes and actions from the prior retrospective and cross-check data. Go over the notes and actions from prior retrospectives and cross-check data that answers the following questions:

  • Did these events take place? If not, why not?
  • Did you get the level of info you had hoped for? If not, then what can be done to get your team to think more deeply about it?
  • Do prior retrospectives reveal any repeating topics/ issues? If so, how can you evaluate them further and come up with effective fixes?

Step 2 - Get your tools ready 

Next, compile the tools required to run your Agile meet effectively. Since these are team meetings, the right tools can help save a lot of time. 

  • A meeting room (virtual or real) should be reserved and all stakeholders should be notified of the details early on. Keep in mind that it might take some additional time for setup and cleanup, so set some extra time as a buffer.
  • Whiteboard or another place to display ideas, which is easy to share with the team.
  • Since Agile Retrospectives are time-boxed events, it is wise to set a timer to keep track of the time and the meeting on schedule.
  • Use project management tools that organize insights and convert them into tasks that can be completed/ticked or separated into groups.
  • Last but not least, keep your own checklist. While organizing the meeting, note down everything that might need to be addressed or covered. 

Step 3 - Set the stage and agenda

After setting up to meeting and tools, don't just sit back and wait for things to happen. The flow of the meeting depends greatly on the organizer. It's easy for a conversation to veer off-topic in a large group, and before you know it, chaos has taken over. In order to avoid that, define what will be discussed, who will be speaking, and your ideal time spent on a topic. To prevent confusion, establish an agenda, define expectations, and manage expectations keeping everyone on the same page.

  • Set the scene (5 minutes) (or more). - Talk about the purpose and results of the last sprint during the opening.
  • Honor the wins (10 minutes) - Allow everyone to discuss the advantages of the sprint.
  • Time to reflect (10 to 15 minutes) - Go on to what needs to be improved.
  • What’s next (10 minutes) - Focus on what you can do to improve or resolve the problems you just noted.
  • Final remarks and goodbyes (5–10 minutes) - Give everyone a chance to express their gratitude before going over the list of follow-up tasks, who is in charge of them, and when they are due.

Step 4 - Ground Rules are a must 

Why is setting ground rules important? One of the objectives of the Agile Retrospectives is to resolve conflicts between teammates or teams without causing chaos. This process can be made efficient simply by setting ground rules, which also define how meetings will be run. 

  • An Agile Retrospective is a constructive event 

Make sure everyone understands that the goal of the retrospective is to concentrate on the ongoing team and process improvement, regardless of how the previous sprint turned out. Avoid assigning blame and focus instead on finding new methods to proceed.

  • Don’t make it personal, don’t take it personally

Project management is about people, therefore don't take it personally or make it personal. An Agile Retrospective, however, is focused on the process. Make sure everyone is aware that they are evaluating systems, routines, and circumstances rather than specific teammates' individual behaviors. 

  • Everyone’s experience matters

Ensure that everyone has a chance to speak without being cut off. Urge everyone to listen attentively and with respect for the agenda as well as the speaker. 

  • Set boundaries

Set a conversation time limit and avoid getting dragged into the "blame game". There is no need or point in bringing up problems from prior sprints, quarters, or years. Instead of pointing fingers, concentrate on making improvements. 

Step 5 - Identify what worked and what didn’t

Just to be clear, Agile Retrospectives aren’t about an individual's performance; rather, it's about the workflows and processes that hindered the team. Inquire about procedures, equipment, or even deadlines. Make sure that this is clear to the team as well. This is merely to allow everyone to freely discuss their experiences and come up with solutions to issue areas. 

After allowing each team member a chance to speak and have their opinions heard, write a summary of the discussion on the whiteboard. Consider the next move as a chance to improve and resolve these problems. Even if this is an open conversation, it still needs to be singularly focused on realistic goals. Ask folks to be as detailed as they can be while they share their ideas so that it can be put into practice.

The questions mentioned earlier can help get more specific and clear answers from team members. Or you can try a more engaging approach which we’ll mention later in this article.

Step 6 - Wrapping up

After your Agile Retrospective for the current sprint is done, set aside some time to wrap up your meeting. In your closing remarks, briefly outline what happened in the meeting, express gratitude to everyone who attended, and discuss how you'll distribute action items to the group. 

While doing so, request feedback from the team, it’s helpful to collect feedback during the Wrap-Up phase to generate insights that could help your overall retrospective processes. Encourage your team to take the following into account when offering feedback:

  • Has this meeting helped them in making progress with their work?
  • Has it contributed to the team's decision-making?
  • Did it lead to valuable ideas that resolved a problem?
  • Did it help in successfully resolving any dispute that was present?

By formally wrapping off your retrospective, you show how much you appreciate the time and effort put forward by your team. It also guarantees that everyone will move on with the same understanding.

Final Words 

Agile Retrospective meetings are crucial for teams that need to grow rapidly while improving and reflecting on their past performance. Since these meetings happen often, it is a chance to build professional bonds with your team. You can make it fun by playing games together and trying engaging activities to get to know each other, improve teamwork, and even build psychological safety. Nobody wants the team to be doing the same Start, Stop, Continue retrospective sprint after sprint.

So it is important to manage the progress, and growth, as well as the environment in which your team works. Project management is about people and retrospectives are about the process. Harmony between the two can take the success rate of your projects up a notch. That’s why it’s always a good thing to have in-house experts capable of achieving that. 
But if you don’t, that’s alright too. There are experts here in ATC who are excellent at managing teams and projects with utmost efficiency and will assist you every step of the way. Or you can enroll in ATC’s training programs and become an expert yourself. If you can’t decide on an option, get in touch and we’ll guide you through it.

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