June 15, 2015

How to Inject More Energy in Your Next Retrospective

Are your retrospective meetings boring and time-consuming?

When you first adopt agile methodologies, the impact of retrospectives is huge.

You can almost see the electricity in the air when people come together as a group for the first time and start listing all the things they accomplished during the sprint.

Unfortunately, that high doesn’t last forever.

After the novelty wears off, you’ll begin finding it harder to keep your retrospectives fresh and engaging for the participants.

When that happens, you might benefit from thinking differently about how to inject more energy in your retros and recapture the usefulness and fun of those early meetings.

Back to basics: Why do we do retrospectives?

The purpose of the retro is to learn, share knowledge and find ways to improve on the Scrum team’s processes.

During a retro, your team should focus on the how, not on the what. What has done is more properly discussed during the sprint demo.

The retro serves to bookend sprints, giving the Scrum team the opportunity to review its efforts.

The Scrum Master is the person who’s responsible for planning and organising the retrospective. Although the meeting aims to put a spotlight on team dynamic, other stakeholders like the product owner should be encouraged to participate as often as possible.

A typical agenda for a retrospective

Here’s what a retro usually looks like at the ReQtest headquarters:

  1. We kick off with an analysis of the burndown chart of our last sprint.
  1. We ask the Scrum team to reflect on their efforts and share their thoughts and observations. Among the things we talk about there’s:
    1. The team’s overall performance or velocity compared to expectations
    2. The relation between the team members and other teams in the organisation
    3. The quality of communication between the team and other stakeholders
    4. The work processes utilised by the team to handle the sprint’s priorities
    5. The tools and techniques that have been used to accomplish goals
  1. Highlight positive accomplishments and describe what was key in enabling team members to reach these achievements.
  1. Call out all the times where the team made a wrong move, clarify the mess-ups and try to dissect the reasons that precipitated them.
  1. Wrap up the meeting with a detailed action plan which describes how the team agrees to proceed in the subsequent sprint.

TIP: Never leave a retro without an action plan in hand. For each action listed in the plan ask yourself: who is responsible for this task and when should it be completed?

  1. Take the time to document and review what has been said during the meeting. Circulate internally if necessary.

8 simple ideas to give your retros an instant energy boost

  1. Mix up the agenda by changing the order in which participants present from one retro to another, or have the Scrum Master pick a participant at random to talk next.
  1. Bring in new participants to the meetings and give them time to share their observations about the retrospective in general.
  1. Play brainstorming games to tap into participants’ creative side and encourage them to express themselves using a variety of methods.

TIP: Try the “If this sprint were an animal (colour, fruit), what would it be” game to elicit more imaginative responses from team members. Don’t do this at every meeting or it’ll become stale fast, however do take note of any interesting responses that arise (e.g. “this sprint was a lonely donkey”) and work with the team to uncover their meaning.

  1. Do an opposite-workshop, for instance: “How should we work to fail miserably with sprints”. Brainstorm ideas, group them and then have the members turn each group to a cluster of positive actions. See how many are they doing already and which actions should be adopted.
  1. Try the Starfish exercise which gives the team an overall picture of the activities they should start doing, stop doing, do more of, do less of, and keep doing.
  1. If people keep forgetting what they did in a sprint, have each team member put up a timeline at a central place in the office. Refer to the timeline when summing up the sprint during the retrospective meeting.
  1. Use an agile tool such as ReQtest which lets you visualise complex data more easily using the in-built chart- and diagram-creation features to explain what has been done in the sprint.
  1. Have participants stand in front of the whiteboard instead of just sitting around a table. This simple tactic encourages people to be involved and start taking collaborative notes instead of just listening to a series of monologues.


Whatever you do, don’t stop having retros!

Retrospective meetings are an important part of any agile team’s process, assisting them to actively reflect and identify ways to improve their work together.

If you feel like your Scrum team is stuck in a rut and your retros feel like a complete waste of time, try one of the ideas I shared above to shake things up and get your team’s groove going again.

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