How to plan, schedule and execute a Retrospective. This how to is based on good practices learned over years of experience conducting hundreds of Retrospectives with Scrum teams, functional teams, engineers, managers, directors and executives.
These suggestions can be applied to Retrospectives conducted by Scrum teams at the end of every Sprint, or for Retrospectives that are done less frequently, or in groups or communities other than a Scrum team.
Written in 2016-2017:
This is part of a series of articles that I originally wrote in 2016-2017 and were only published on private internal company wikis. I am publishing them publicly for the first time in 2019, here on my blog.
- Agile PM book – Chapter 10 Showcasing Work and Incorporating Feedback > The Sprint Retrospective, location 4489.
- Scrum Guide – Scrum Events > Sprint Retrospective, page 12.
- Certified Scrum Master Class slide 92
- Scrum Roles & Responsibilities
- Psychological safety is an essential element of useful Retrospectives and high performing teams. Psychological safety on Wikipedia – Google search on Psychological safety.
- Retrospective Template for a Wiki Page & Spreadsheet
These ground rules are designed to encourage a free and open discussion, without barriers or restrictions on what can be said. This is the best way to discover innovative, new ways to continuously improve. By creating a safe environment that supports and empowers unrestricted collaboration.
The Retrospective is:
- Freedom of speech zone. Anyone can talk about anything.
- Anonymous, no names ever leave the room.
- No people managers.
- Results are shared.
- Results should be actionable.
- Psychological safety is an essential element of useful Retrospectives and high performing teams.
- The facilitator needs to help the team establish psychological safety.
- Limiting participants helps the team establish psychological safety.
- Learn More: Psychological safety on Wikipedia – Google search on Psychological safety.
Some guidelines for having the most effective Retrospective activities.
Length of Meeting:
- Time boxed
- 45 minutes for each week in Sprint
|Sprint Length||Retrospective Meeting Length|
|1 week||45 minutes|
|2 weeks||1.5 hours|
|3 weeks||2.25 hours|
|4 weeks||3 hours|
Scrum Master or Agile Coach:
- Schedules meetings.
- Facilitates the meetings.
- The facilitator needs to help the team establish psychological safety. Psychological safety is an essential element of useful Retrospectives and high performing teams. Psychological safety on Wikipedia – Google search on Psychological safety.
Limit invitees, to allow for an open, honest and effective discussion.
- Limiting participants helps the team establish psychological safety. Psychological safety is an essential element of useful Retrospectives and high performing teams. Psychological safety on Wikipedia – Google search on Psychological safety.
- Only team members are invited.
- Do not invite anyone outside of the Scrum team.
- No people managers.
- OPTIONAL – Do or do not invite Product Owner (PO). Consider the following:
- If your team agrees that the Product Owner should be invited, then invite the PO. Otherwise do not.
- If your team has a dedicated and fully engaged Product Owner that participates as an equal team member, then your team might want to invite the PO.
- If your organizational structure is fairly flat and all team members are peers including the Product Owner, then your team might want to invite the PO.
- If your team is not having any problems or impediments due to backlog quality issues or PO engagement, then your team might want to invite the PO.
- If any of the above are not true, then your team might want to consider not inviting the PO.
- Last activity on the last day of the Sprint.
- Ideally Sprint Retrospective is the last activity on the last day of the Sprint, after your team has conducted a Sprint Review.
- Because, you can incorporate what you learn from the Sprint Review as improvements you explore in your Sprint Retro.
- Conduct both Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective before you finalize your Sprint Plan, because:
- They are both essential inputs in to a good Sprint Plan.
- Are critical parts of the Inspect and Adapt process of Scrum, and other Agile approaches, used to embrace continuous improvement.
Use a whiteboard and put these 3 columns on it, 1 for each of the 3 agenda topics.
|What went well ?||What would we like to change ?||How can we implement that change ?|
- The whiteboard content will be written up & shared in a wiki page.
- In your backlog, Action Items can be created and assigned to someone with due dates set on them. Then linked to the wiki page.
Steps to Execute:
|1.||Everyone takes a marker and writes on the whiteboard, at least 1 original idea in the first 2 columns (see agenda topics above). They can write as write as many as they can think of. They can also optional add to column 3.||~ 20 minutes|
|2.||Each team mate was given 3 votes for each list (3 votes X 2 lists), that they could use to show they agree with someone else’s item. But they cannot vote for their own item.||~ 10 minutes|
|3.||Facilitator asks team questions to encourage discussion and discover, and ultimately help the team decide:
How can we implement that change ?
Which are turned into Action Items in your backlog, so that can be visible to everyone and directly actionable.
|~ 30 minutes|
- Time box it to 60 to 90 minutes maximum.
- Meeting Subject: <Scrum Team Name> Sprint Retrospective
- For <Scrum Team Name> use the same name used everywhere else, for consistency. You can abbreviate to save space. For example:
- Book a larger conference room so we have a large whiteboard.
<<< BEGIN – COPY this to your Sprint Retrospective meeting invites >>>
- What went well ?
- What would we like to change ?
- How can we implement that change ?
For more details:
- Visit the Retrospective How To page for lots of details.
<<< END – Sprint Retrospective meeting invites >>>
Who to Invite:
- Only invite Scrum team members, no managers. This is a Scrum team only activity.
- Make Sprint Retrospective a separate meeting invite from Sprint Reviews and Planning.
- Each one must be a different meeting invite, even if they are scheduled back to back. Because each one has a different invitee list, a different target audience and a different set of goals.
- Schedule it as soon as you can after the Sprint ends. For example:
- Make it the last thing you do on the last day of the Sprint, OR no more than 1-2 days after your Sprint ends.
- Perhaps schedule it immediately after your Sprint Review. Or immediately before or after your Sprint Planning. If the Review ends early, we start the Retrospective early. If the Retrospective ends early, we end earlier than planned.
- In person meetings = Shorter, better, more effective meetings. Because in person is always the most effective and fastest way to get things done. So we’d like everyone in CA to be in person in Milpitas.
Scheduling with Remote Teammates:
If it is challenging for your team to schedule meetings because you have a lot of people remote.
- Choose a time that is a reasonable compromise between your work hours and your remote teammates.
- Consider scheduling the Retrospective with only people in your location, or only those in the US. Then run a separate remote Retro as well, to collect feedback from them and also share it via the same wiki page with the US team’s feedback.
- If you do schedule it so that the remote teammates can participate, have them gather in the same place(s) then schedule it when they can also all be in the same location, if you can. And only if they have good conference rooms with quality speakerphones, at their site. If not, they should use headsets with their individual PCs/Macs, and then their location during meetings won’t matter, except that they should not be in noisy places.
- Setup a web conference if remote people are involved.
Use a Virtual Whiteboard Tool:
- Use a shared Google Sheet as a virtual whiteboard, or other tool. You can upload or import the Excel file attached to Retrospective Template for a Wiki Page & Spreadsheet.
- Using the File > Share menu item use these sharing options in the screen shot below.
- Then copy the URL, and paste it in to your web conferencing chat, so people can click it to edit the sheet.
- After the Retro is over, turn the sharing off again.