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Scrum Master TIP #5 – Retrospectives

February 10, 2012


Retrospectives are probably the most important event for Teams, and probably the less valued.
What I’m writing now is just a glimpse on retrospectives.. just a minor part of it. I truly advise you to read more about it (check bellow recommended book).


What are Retrospectives?


Retrospectives are the right time for the Team to get together and talk about whatever is getting in the way and whatever helps them performing better.


Whom should be in the retrospective?


Retrospectives are a team event, so only teams should participate (Scrum Team). External participants will probably make team members to be more quiet and shy, after all you’ll be talking about weaknesses, not only strengths. External participants should be, at the very least, trust-able observers.
I believe that when a team is mature enough (meaning that members have been together for a while) external participants presence will impact less in team openness.. but then again, it’s really important to understand how useful are those external participants. I’ll explain:

Retrospective is a team event, the right place for team to understand and talk about, RECOGNIZE, it’s strengths and Weaknesses. The team. Not anyone else. If the team is not getting there, then whatever an external participant will point out will not be considered. We don’t want that right?

On the other hand, when things are found by teams, just that process of finding, understanding, recognizing and working out the issue, makes the team grow, get more mature. And that’s what we aim for our company. Grow Teams.


Retro Script – How To


Retrospective session should take 2 hours in a 2 weeks sprint (for other lengths do the math yourself )
Retrospective is supposed to be a valuable, focused, professional, simple and FUNNY event. Funny because we want our team to feel comfortable and to enjoy those 2 hours with the rest of the team mates.
So, best way to lead a retro is by using exercises.
We can break the retro into 5 steps:

1.Set the stage
2.Gather data
3.Generate insights
4.Decide what to do
5.Close the retrospective

So, lets go, briefly through these.

1.Set the stage
This is where you:

  • Welcome participants,
  • Explain retro purpose,
  • Understand participant’s mood and
  • May establish some retro working agreements (no telephone,no Blaming)

This step will help people focus .

2.Gather data
This is where you:

  • Collect information regarding previous sprint – both good and not so good stuff
  • Remember: Strengths and Weaknesses – we need both. The first one to keep on doing it and the second to stop, avoid or change.

This step will help people see the most important things that happened.


3.Generate insights
This is where you:

  • Ask WHY (where and why all those strengths and weaknesses come from)
  • So you’ll understand where info comes from and why things happen that way

This step will help people building new perspectives and understand the root of things.

4.Decide what to do
This is where you:

  • Define actions for the team to improve

This step will help people build collective decisions


5.Close the retrospective
This is where you:

  • Thank everyone participation and review actions

This step will help people review actions and understand clearly what’s to be done.

By “you” I mean the TEAM. TEAM Talks, discusses, argues, defines actions. Not the Scrum Master, not the Manager. The Team.




Retrospectives should always happen at the end of each Sprint (or iteration or cycle). Each Sprint should end up with one Retrospective- don’t skip it.. if you do so, you’ll be wasting time for improvement, and you’ll probably making bad stuff worst (this is like a disease, if you don’t take care of it from the beginning, it grows!)

So, do one retro at each sprint end. And do it before the next sprint starts. That is before next Sprint Planning. I’ll explain why: after each retrospective you’ll have improvement actions (if you don’t then the retro was a total failure).. as such you need time to implement those, so you need to consider them in next planning makes sense right? )




I heard once @rachelcdavies saying in a  lightning talk (#ALE2011), that :

Retro is about change. If you’re not changing anything nor taking actions, then you should change your retro

Simple, honest, and so true. I always remember that whenever I facilitate a retro or help someone setting up one.
Sometimes this is the biggest trap in Retros: we do them but we don’t get anything from them. This is then a waste. So you need to change the way you’re doing stuff.

Another Trap I’ve found several times is that teams tend to focus only in technical issues. Maybe this is human nature… we just focus on stuff outside our circle of influence or out of relations-sphere. take s a lot of courage to talk about feelings, specially at office.

I personally don’t care about technical issues.
Yes, it’s important to mention that we don’t have enough servers to do testing, and we’ll escalate that..but do we need retro to point that out? No! we actually should have done it before.
Retros are for humans. Retros are the place where we try to grow our team. Where we try to evolve from a group of individuals to a team.

Retrospectives are about people needs, emotions, wellbeing, team’s dynamic and synergy. It’s about strengthening relations and grow stronger.

Another trap is to do same exercises ever and ever. If you do so it will stop being funny, and it will start being boring. We don’t want that right? So, try to change from retro to retro. New stuff, funny stuff. Experiment!


Where can I find more about this?


You can find several exercises for all different stages in Agile Retrospectives Book (by  @estherderby and @DianaOfPortland )
My advise to you is for you to read the first chapters where there’s a pretty good explanation why retrospectives are so important. And then, just flip through the exercises and see how interesting and funny they can be.
But, I challenge you: next time, try to create new exercises for your team!


From → Agile, People, Scrum, Tips

  1. Suresh Sharma permalink


    Is it possible to hold a retrospective after Sprint planning 1 ? I think it might help the team come up with ideas/actions that are timely for the next sprint, thereby making the actions more relevant when holding sprint planing 2.

  2. Hi Suresh :)

    If we see retrospectives as the opportunity in time and space (or spacetime as Hawkins would put it:) ) then yes! We should do a retrospective at the end of each cycle (or sprint, iteration). this includes Sprint 1 as well. :)

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