The sprint retrospective in Agile is the scrum ceremony that allows team members to see how well the sprint went in terms of adopting and adapting a defined process. Even in change driven agile projects it is important to define a process that can be agreed and followed by all the team members in order to deliver value in a continuous manner without hindering progress. Thus, checking whether this process was really effective and whether it actually contributed to the effort of continuous delivery is an important activity for any agile team.
The bottom of the pile
However, the sprint retrospective is often given step-motherly treatment among all the scrum ceremonies. Retrospective meetings often happen at the end of the sprint or before commencing the subsequent sprint. Sometimes, the retrospective happens along with the sprint review that is carried out to evaluate the product or solution as to whether it meets the acceptance criteria. Teams often neglect the sprint retrospective or just quickly go through it just for the sake of holding a retrospective meeting.
Purpose of the Retrospective?
One major reason for ineffective retrospective meetings is the miscommunication or misunderstanding of the purpose of retrospective meetings. It is important that the Scrum Master informs the entire team about the purpose of the retrospective meeting. The primary reason for a retrospective meeting is to identify areas of improvement for the process being followed. Hence, the analysis is on the expected process, the actual process followed and an analysis of the gaps identified along with a set of ideas for improvement.
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Below are a few approaches commonly used to document findings from a retrospective meeting. The team has the freedom to define whatever approach works well for them.
- Working, Not working, Puzzling
- Start, Stop, Continue
- Good, Problematic, Significant
- What went well, What went wrong, What needs to change,
- Mad, Sad, Glad
- Liked, Learnt, Locked, Longed for
Most team members complain that retrospective meetings are monotonous, non-value adding or boring and that they consider it as a waste of time. Below are some tips on how to make the retrospective current and engaging.
Normally in agile projects, the Scrum Master who is the protector and coach for the process has the most interest in carrying out the retrospective meeting. But it is not a must that the Scrum Master needs to be the one organizing and facilitating these sessions. It is always good to hand over this responsibility to a team member and to challenge them to come up with innovative ideas to make the retrospective innovative and engaging.
Retrospective meetings are normally presided by the Product Owner or client stakeholders as well. It may be them who are holding back or limiting project progress through their actions. In order to facilitate freedom of speech, a neutral facilitator can be assigned on a rotating basis and the scrum meeting can be carried out as a ‘Round Robin’ or even a ‘Pencil & paper’ brainstorming session.
Set the Context
It is always important for the facilitator to set the stage for the meeting. The facilitator must define the purpose and ground rules for the meeting along with the expected outcome. Ice Breaker speeches, Motivational videos, Collaborative games etc. can be innovative ways to ease everyone into the meeting and to get them to share ideas without any inhibitions. It is also important to revisit findings from previous retrospective meetings in order to ascertain whether remedial action has been implemented properly in order to ensure that findings do not recur.
One drawback at most of the retrospective meetings is the lack of participation. Limitations with culture, communication, as a result of respect or even through fear of punishment people refrain from contributing at retrospective meetings. Thus, the usual set of findings pop-up at each retrospective meeting.
The facilitator must play a key role in running the meeting as a time boxed game where he can encourage participants to generate ideas, write them on sticky notes and post them on walls. Fish bowl meetings, Motorboat meetings etc are some more techniques to encourage participation. Identify enablers which makes the process work and any distractors which hinder the process. Once enough ideas are generated, the next step would be to generate insights, group them into themes and to assign possible action items.
Generate Insights & Action Items
The facilitator may use affinity technique to group ideas to common themes or categories. Some categories may be communication, collaboration, leadership, trust, understanding of process etc. This will help the team grow on those ideas in order to generate actionable ideas. It is important to also look at the progress of action items from past sprints, and to analyze any ideas or action items that may be repeating. Repetitions may actually mean gaps that the team has not been able to successfully address and needs urgent attention.
Value Everyone’s Opinions
Facilitator must ensure that the team values the inputs of everyone. No mud slinging, finger pointing or blame games should be tolerated. One way to increase collaboration is to stress on the positives and commend on accomplishments of team members.
The Wrap Up
One important aspect that the facilitator and the team miss out on is to wrap up retrospective sessions properly. The findings and action items from the meeting must become the motivators for the team on how they are going to perform during subsequent sprints. Thus, it is important to get the team to act upon findings from the sprint and to make necessary changes to the processes.
So, let’s make retrospectives work. Let’s make them the catalyst for continuous improvement of agile teams.