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March 31, 2023
7 min read

Best Practices for Effective Sprint Retrospective

Sprint Retrospective is a time-boxed meeting conducted at the end of the sprint to improve the process and make the next sprints more productive. Find out more on best practices for effective Sprint Retrospective meetings in this article.
Anton Versal
Anton Versal
Learn how to make your sprint retrospective effective.

Sprint Retrospective meetings are crucial when developing projects based on the Scrum framework. A Sprint Retrospective meeting is conducted at the end of the sprint to discuss what went well and what areas are to improve. It provides an excellent opportunity for Scrum teams to improve their outcome for the next sprints. However, sometimes teams do not conduct Sprint Retrospective rightly, which results in unproductive sessions or even demotivated teams. So, let's discuss in detail the Sprint Retrospective and highlight some of the best practices for effective Sprint Retrospective sessions.

Sprint Retrospective – A Quick Overview

Sprint Retrospective is a meeting conducted at the end of the sprint in which the Scrum team discusses what went well, what went wrong, and what areas are to improve. Basically, the purpose of Sprint Retrospective is to improve the process so that the next sprint sessions can be more productive. The length of the Sprint Retrospective varies depending on the length of the sprint. If the sprint is of two weeks, then the Sprint Retrospective meeting will be of around 1-2 hours.

Conducting Sprint Retrospective meetings regularly after sprints help teams to pause and reflect on their efficiency and set an action plan for future sprints to go more smoothly. This way, the team remains more committed to having an efficient work environment along with pinpointing the areas to improve.

Main Agenda of Sprint Retrospective

The Sprint Retrospective meeting should be a time-boxed session conducted after Sprint Review but before the next sprint planning. The main agenda in a Sprint Retrospective meeting should be as follows:

  • Check whether the action plan of the previous Sprint Retrospective went rightly.
  • Analyze how the recent-most sprint went in terms of processes, people, tools, and relationships.
  • Pinpoint what went well.
  • Pinpoint what went wrong.
  • Identify the areas to improve.
  • Prepare an action plan for the next sprints.

In short, the agenda of the Sprint Retrospective is to evaluate the effectiveness of the current development process and then finalize the suggestions that are going to smoothen the next sprints.

Benefits of Sprint Retrospective

Before we head to the best practices for effective Sprint Retrospective, let's quickly highlight the benefits of Sprint Retrospective so that you can understand its usefulness in Scrum. Below are the benefits worth knowing:

  • It provides a blameless session in which team members can openly share their feedback.
  • It helps celebrate things that went well.
  • It helps to identify loopholes in the process that might be hindering the outcome significantly.
  • It helps to pinpoint small changes that can result in larger improvements.
  • It helps to make the next sprint better than the previous one.
  • It helps to develop a more collaborative work environment.

Overall, Sprint Retrospective is a must-to-do meeting for teams following the Scrum framework in order to learn and improve their sprints and the quality of their deliveries.

Best Practices for Effective Sprint Retrospective

Now that we know what Sprint Retrospective is all about, including its agenda and benefits, let's shift our focus on the best practices to have effective Sprint Retrospective sessions. Below are the top 7 best practices worth following:

1. Set the Goals and Share Prompts in Advance

Sprint Retrospective demands creative thinking, which cannot occur suddenly. If the goals of the meeting are not known to the members beforehand, then it means they will spend a couple of minutes understanding the goals. Afterwards, they will be in a position to provide their input. This wastes a lot of time and often makes the members unproductive.

Therefore, it is recommended that the goals/prompts of the meeting are shared with the members a couple of days before the meeting. It can list the main questions that the meeting is going to discuss. This way, they will come with a prepared mindset on what main areas to discuss, eventually providing more constructive opinions.

2. Invite the Right Participants

The Scrum framework emphasizes continuous interaction between the Scrum team and stakeholders. It is true for most parts of the Scrum framework, but it does not apply in Sprint Retrospective. This meeting is solely meant for Scrum teams so that they can evaluate their performance and efficiency of processes.

So, the Sprint Retrospective meeting should invite only the right participants, which includes Product Owner, Scrum Master, and development team. In short, there is no stakeholder or higher management involved in this meeting.

3. Begin with a Game or Icebreaker Question

Since Sprint Retrospective meeting is conducted at the end of the sprint, there are chances that the development team members might not be in a full brainstorming mood. Similarly, there are also chances that a few members might be hesitant to share their opinion.

Therefore, another recommended practice in the Sprint Retrospective meeting is to begin it with some kind of game that can engage members before the actual meeting begins. Similarly, icebreaking questions can also make everyone start talking. This makes members start speaking openly from the beginning of the meeting, which makes the flow continue throughout the session.

4. The Right Time Duration

The duration of the Sprint Retrospective also matters a lot. It should be a time-boxed session whose time frame is set according to the length of the Sprint. Generally, the duration of the Sprint Retrospective should be as follows:

  • 45 minutes for 1 week sprint
  • 90 minutes for 2 weeks sprint
  • 135 minutes for 3 weeks sprint
  • 180 minutes for 4 weeks sprint

Time planning is important because sometimes the discussions can go way long, which might get deviated from the main focus points. However, when the time duration is set, then the team remains more focused and tries to accomplish the agenda of the meeting within time.

5. Scrum Master as a Member

The role of the Scrum Master in Scrum is of a "true leader" that ensures Scrum principles and best practices are followed. This means that the Scrum Master mostly serves as a facilitator, coach, leader, or mentor. But the role of Scrum Master in Sprint Retrospective should be of a member instead of a leader.

Since the Sprint Retrospective meeting is among the Scrum team members, it is not required to be formal. Therefore, the Scrum Master can here play the role of the member by sharing his opinions openly and discussing with the team to improve productivity and smooth sprint processes. This can turn into more fruitful meetings and better outcomes.

6. Keep Sprint Review Meeting Separate

Often Sprint Retrospective and Sprint Review are confused because they both are conducted at the end of the sprint. But both these sessions are meant for different purposes.

The Sprint Review meeting is between the Scrum team and stakeholders to discuss the product iteration completed in the current sprint, get the feedback from the stakeholders, update and estimate user stories through an estimation technique (like Async Poker, Planning Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, etc.), and update the product backlog. In short, the Sprint Review meeting is all about the product.

On the other hand, Sprint Retrospective does not involve stakeholders, and its main purpose is to improve efficiency for the upcoming sprints. So, both these meetings are different and should be conducted separately. However, the Sprint Review meeting should be conducted before the Sprint Retrospective meeting.

7. Change the Meeting Location

As discussed above, the Sprint Retrospective meeting is among the Scrum team members, so it can be informal. In fact, an informal and fun meeting can engage members more and result in a more productive session.

However, since members spend most of the day at their desks, they might not be as creative as the meeting expects from them. So, if fun can improve the meeting outcomes, then why out have that session at a different location, like a café, coffee shop, or any other place? This can release workplace pressure, enhance the mood, and open up creativity.

Wrapping Up

Sprint Retrospective is the last and crucial stage in a sprint. It not just provides a chance for the Scrum team to meet and have an informal discussion of their achievements/challenges, but also improves the efficiency of the team as a whole. However, teams can easily deviate from the true essence of Sprint Retrospective if they don't use it rightly. So, understand the true purpose of Sprint Retrospective and follow the above best practices to make productive Sprint Retrospective meetings.

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