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Importance of Sprint Retrospective in Agile Project Management

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19th Feb, 2024
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    Importance of Sprint Retrospective in Agile Project Management

    This article provides an overview of the importance of Sprint Retrospectives in the Agile way of working. This is one of the most sought-after Agile training topics. This article covers the importance of sprint retrospective meetings, suggestions to facilitate a value-driven retrospective, and the benefits of consistently practicing retrospective meetings in Agile ways of working. 

    What is a Sprint Retrospective?  

    Sprint retrospectives are repetitive opportunities in a Software Development Lifecycle to identify any potential pitfalls at the earliest possibility and eliminate any ongoing conflicts in the team. This is in relation to people, processes, and tools used in the team. The sprint retrospective should be held at the end of a sprint iteration. The ceremony is not restrictive of participation, and anyone who has played a role in the last sprint iteration can participate in the ceremony. The sprint retrospective meeting agenda in general will help the team identify the below 

    • What went well? 
    • What did not go well? 
    • What could be improved? 

    What should you include in Project Retrospective? 

    Teams often reflect on a finished project during an organized meeting called a sprint retrospective meeting or retro. It enables a team and individuals to emphasize the project's achievements and shortcomings, pinpoint opportunities for improvement, and consider the project as a whole.  

    It is an opportunity for the team to reflect on how the current sprint went, identify successes and areas of improvement, and discuss any changes that need to be made going forward. The purpose of sprint retrospectives is to help teams grow and improve, while also providing a space to celebrate successes and build team morale. By taking the time to discuss the good and bad of each sprint, teams are able to become more efficient and effective over time. 

    Retros assist the team in gathering the members' ideas and comments on a current project. We frequently rush from one assignment to another; thus, a retro can be a very helpful method for assisting us in improving our working methods, notably when it comes to teamwork. 

    1. Establishing a trustworthy and secure environment 

    Each team member will have the time and space to express their perspectives on how the process went, the success, the failures, and any recommendations they may have for the future during a well-planned and executed retrospective. As a sprint retrospective product owner, it's important to take time to perform a sprint retrospective to assess the challenges and successes of the previous sprint. 

    2. Assemble hard data for improved evaluation 

    You can monitor the progress of every team member and access real performance indicators, such as time, output, and more, by using a project management application. You may better understand the real events that occur throughout the lifetime of your project by integrating these advanced analytics with the team's perspective. 

    3. Produce new ideas and remedies 

    During a retrospective meeting in agile, your team should focus on providing potential solutions. For instance, if your content team is issues related to productivity and performance, you would want to determine the problems and suggest potential solutions. 

    4. Take steps to build a strong team  

    Change can be challenging. Advise your teammates proactively about the decisions made during the retrospective and ensure they are carried out. Monitoring the deliverables makes it easier to determine whether the solution can solve the problem. If nothing has changed, reopen the case and try an alternative strategy for solving the issue. 

    What data should be in Project Retrospective 

    The Project Retrospective is an important tool for project teams to evaluate the overall success of their work. It helps a team to identify areas where they succeeded and where they could have done better. By doing so, team members can use the retrospective to identify steps that need to be taken to improve future projects. Furthermore, the data gathered during the project retrospective can be used to inform other teams and departments about the project’s progress. Mentioned below are the data required in the project retrospective. 

    • Prepare the ground for reflections 

    • Assemble hard data for improved evaluation 

    • Produce new ideas and remedies 

    • Take steps to strengthen 

    • Keep track of your retrospectives. 

    Sprint Retrospective: Its Purpose and Importance

    Sprint retrospectives are an actual ceremony in the practice of work irrespective of the nature of the work. Agile Manifesto coaches us to Respond to change following a plan and the Sprint Retrospective will be a key contributor to identifying those changes and their solutions. 

    Who runs a sprint retrospective meeting?  

    Retrospectives are facilitated by the Scrum Masters/ Agile Project Managers. They hold accountability for conducting the retrospectives at the end of every sprint iteration. This is a time-boxed ceremony and lasts about an hour on average.

    The Scrum Master holds the primary responsibility for arranging the meeting rooms and associated invites for this session. If there is no existence of Scrum Master roles in a few teams, either the project manager or the delivery lead takes responsibility to facilitate the Sprint retrospective meeting. In a few other cases, the team members are provided with the opportunity to facilitate the meeting. This is to drive more participation and engagement for the team members.

    Importance of Retrospective Meetings and Potential Challenges  

    While the Daily stand-up ceremony, Sprint planning ceremony, and Refinement ceremony enable grooming, planning, and tracking the execution of work, it is the Sprint Retrospective meetings that enable the team to improvise the team performance from one iteration to another.

    It is possible to have a perception to ignore/ reject Sprint retrospectives for below stated reasons by the team. 

    • Not reviewing the previously agreed actions and continuing to take new actions. This leads to the disinterest in the team in stacking up actions without closure.
    • Retrospectives are not productive and produce repetitive outcomes.
    • The time can be given back to the team to create software and it can speed up the delivery process.
    • There is no engagement in the retrospective meetings. 
    • The input shared by the team members is not prioritized in the right order. 

    It is the responsibility of the Scrum Master/ Project master to continue coaching the team on its importance by demonstrating the values we can drive out from that ceremony. Team awareness and contribution are key to facilitating a retrospective meeting. 

    Facilitating a Value Driven Sprint Retrospective

    Sprint Retrospective meetings are facilitated in 5 steps. A value-driven retrospective can enable the team to move from the storming phase into the performing stage. Below are a few suggestions for further effective execution of the above steps. 

    1. Build up to the Ceremony/ Setting the stage for the ceremony 
    2. Collecting Inputs/ Gather Data for discussion 
    3. Effective collaboration/ Generating Insights 
    4. Agree on Actions/ Decide What to do 
    5. Closing the Retrospective 

    1. Creating Excitement

    It is as important and key to setting the stage for an effective retrospective ceremony. This is the stage where the team looks forward to how they get to spend their time during the ceremony. During this stage, Scrum Master/ Project Manager describes the theme of the retrospectives. A varying theme from time to time would create the buzz for the team to provide input in diverse ways.

    While both working remotely as well as from the office, it is advised to lighten the mood of the team to focus on the meeting agenda. It can be achieved through icebreakers or casual conversations among team members.

    Spending 5 mins to setting the team mood and explaining the theme of the retrospective will be key expected outcomes of this stage. The team usually when hesitant to open during the retrospective meetings, try out various retrospective methods. Sprint retrospective templates can be found online through platforms such as https://easyretro.io/. Easy Retro platform allows you to use up to 3 boards at a time with their free version.

    Few examples of Retrospective 

    • Start, stop, continue 
    • Good, bad, better, best 
    • The 4 L’s Retrospective
    • The Sailboat Retrospective 
    • Lean Coffee 
    • KALM 
    • Harry Potter Theme
    • Game of Thrones Theme 

    Few teams would be excited to participate in the movie theme-based retrospectives. The Harry Potter theme for example conveys the same question but compares the movie events. 

    • Felix Felicis (Good things!) 
    • Baruffio's Brain Elixir (New Learnings) 
    • Petrificus Totalus (What slowed the team down?) 
    • Triwizard Cup (Shoutouts) 

    In a few cases, it is encouraged to allow team members to kick off with the sprint retrospective agenda. This technique allows the team members to feel included and another closer opportunity to know about the ceremony’s importance.

    2. Collecting Inputs from the team

    In this phase, before working as a team to gather data, it is crucial to look back on the outcomes of the previously agreed actions from the last retrospective. The action owners are requested to present back the progress or closure of the actions. In a few instances, a time-consuming action taken in the last sprint can be considered for a discussion in the upcoming ceremony to agree if it is worth continuing them.

    The sprint retrospective meeting kicks off with the team member contributing to the discussion topics. This phase is known as “Gather Data”. During this phase encourage the team to be transparent in calling out their experience in the last completed sprint.

    Irrespective of Virtual or In Person retrospective meetings, provide the option to write anonymous inputs. This option at times helps the Scrum Masters/ Agile Project managers identify the masked challenges in the team.

    3. Effective Collaboration among teams and generating insights

    This is the vital and most challenging phase of the Sprint retrospective meeting. Once you gather data, the next step is to visualize the data to the team and allow the team to prioritize the order of discussion on the input provided by them. This helps to achieve maximum impactful actions during the discussion.

    As a Scrum Master/ Agile Project Manager it is their responsibility to control the flow of the discussion and coach the team to effectively push the discussion towards generating insights. The team should be encouraged to provide input and suggestions based on the data evidence so that the rest of the team members. 

    4. Agreeing on the Action Items

    This phase of the meeting is about identifying the actions and their owners for the insights generated so far in the meeting. It is important to discuss with the team the value the team will be deriving by finishing the agreed actions. This is the motivation for the action owners to complete the actions alongside the upcoming spring responsibilities.

    It is also advised to agree on the deadline for the closure of the agreed actions. This activity helps the Scrum Masters to keep track of progress and govern the overall execution of the action item.

    5. Closing the Retrospective meeting

    In this phase, make sure you document the agreed actions and their owners and share the details with all the participants of the ceremony. It is also encouraged that the progress of the agreed actions can be discussed at the end of Daily stand-up meetings if there is any progress on agreed actions.

    In some cases, it is expected that there can be too many inputs to cover in the given meeting window. On validation of those inputs, it is highly encouraged to have a follow-up ceremony shortly after the current one to discuss the pending items.

    Consistently practicing the above will enable the team to generate values and motivate them to continue attending the retrospective meetings.

    Benefits of Sprint Retrospective  

    When the ceremony is practiced consistently, there are huge benefits for the team. Below are a few:

    1. Identify and resolve any ongoing issues in the team. The issues can be personal or due to the dependencies with other teams that could’ve gone under the radar with daily commitments. The retrospective meeting provides a platform for the team members to discuss those issues and identify actions to resolve them.
    2. Predict pitfalls for the team and take proactive measures against them. The retrospective meeting enables the team members to forecast any potential risks/ pitfalls for the team and plan the actions to avoid them.
    3. Promotes Transparency in the team. The retrospective meeting allows the team members to share their moods and experience with the rest of the team and creates a safe space to allow them to open up about any of their ongoing challenges.
    4. Promotes Team collaboration and Team bonding. It is also a platform to thank the support one received during the last sprint and in return an opportunity to celebrate the person who helped. The appreciation among the team members helps build team bonding and team collaboration.
    5. Provides an opportunity to improvise the team's ways of working. The process that the team follows can be continuously improved. The retrospective meetings allow the team members to give feedback.

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    Sprint Project Retrospective Template

    A successful sprint project requires an effective retrospective—a time to pause, reflect, and document what was successful and what could have been improved upon. This template provides a structured approach to facilitating the sprint project retrospective process with the key stakeholders, which can help ensure that the project is delivered successfully. 

    Template 1- Start, Stop, Continue  

    The team can be directed toward processes and develop new team habits by identifying what to start, stop, and continue doing. The "Start, Stop, Continue" strategy focuses on generating ideas quickly. This approach aims to discover actions right away rather than listing every issue, grouping them, and then attempting to take action on particular categories. 

    Template 2 - Mad, sad, glad 

    Recognize the emotional well-being of your team and make any required adjustments. 

    Template -3 - Sailboat  

    Establish the team's vision and note any obstacles in your path. Show the group a picture of a sailboat in the water, being propelled by the wind, being held underwater by anchors, sailing in the direction of an island, and encountering rocks. 

    Explain how a sprint has elements that can accelerate it up and slow it down. The islands in the image represent the team's ambitions, while the rocks represent potential hazards to their vision. The team's vision and goals should be put in writing. 

    Common Mistakes in Sprint Retrospective

    Sprint retrospectives are an important part of agile project management, but many teams make common mistakes when completing them. These mistakes can be due to a lack of resources, lack of preparation, or failure to establish clear goals. It’s important to identify the primary issues in each phase and to ensure that the right people are involved.  

    Additionally, it’s important to record the results and action items so that the lessons learned can be applied to the next sprint. Mentioned below are the common mistakes in sprint retrospectives.  

    • It is necessary to use an everlasting Sprint 0 before the "real" Sprints can begin 

    • Sprint rhythm constantly changes 

    • The sprint extends for a couple of days 

    • To tie up loose ends identified during earlier sprints by conducting a hardening sprint 

    • When working with more than one team on the same project, having a different Sprint rhythm is problematic.

    Project Retrospective vs Project Post-Mortem

    Two key differences between project retrospective and project post-mortem are mentioned below.  

    1. Work conduction  

    A management team typically conducts Post-Mortems after a project is finished. Retrospective meetings are held in Agile software development after each sprint (or as needed) during the entire project. The fact that the entire development team participates in the Retros makes it unique. 

    2. Discussion point 

    Most projects end with a post-mortem celebration or a witch hunt where those responsible for the failure are punished. Retrospectives focus on identifying potential improvements and continually committing to doing something different to continually improve as a team. 

    Conclusion

    The sprint retrospective meetings are effective for any Agile way of working while delivering a project. It allows us to identify the experience of the team and identify opportunities to continuously and consistently improvise the environment for the team members.

    With appropriate coaching, the meetings will continue to deliver amazing results and lead to building consistently performing teams who are transparent with each other, care about each other and identify pitfalls at the earliest.

    Do check out KnowledgeHut best Agile training topics if interested to know more about the Agile ways of working. 

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)   

    1. What are the 3 retrospective questions? 

    • What went well?
    • What did not go well?
    • What could be improved? 

    2. What are the goals of the sprint retrospective? 

    • Sprint retrospectives are repetitive opportunities in a Software Development Lifecycle to identify any potential pitfalls at the earliest possibility and eliminate any ongoing conflicts in the team. This is in relation to people, relationships, processes, and tools. 

    3. What is a sprint retrospective example? 

    There are various methods of Sprint retrospectives. A few of the most used methods are below.

    • What went well? / What did not go well? / What could be improved? 
    • Start, stop, continue 
    • Good, bad, better, best 

    4. What is the difference between sprint and sprint retrospectives? 

    • A sprint is a short duration (typically 2-4 weeks) where an Agile team aims to complete a set of work. 
    • A sprint retrospective is a ceremony that is conducted during a sprint window to help the team identify improvements before entering the next sprint.
    Profile

    Ramasamy Ayyappan

    Author

    Ram is a seasoned people manager experienced in managing multiple Digital portfolios that include Frontend, Middleware and Data Technologies such as Data Science and Subscription Engineering. He is specialized in bringing the best out of people and delivering consistent results. He has experience working in Digital News Media and E-Learning Domains. Ram contributed to professional blogging from time to time.

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