How to conduct Agile Retrospectives

In the past two months, I have received numerous requests about how to run agile retrospectives. I wrote a blog in 2017 for improving agile retrospectives but I wanted to spend some time on the how as conducting a good retrospective can be a challenge in itself.

Preparation Activities:

Conducting a retrospective if you’re all onsite is the easiest as all you’ll need it:

  • Large A1 sheets of paper (e.g. flipchart paper)
  • Post it notes
  • Pens/ markers

Preparation Activities for Scrum Masters:

  • Get the right people in the room
    • I think this is the biggest factor for success. I would have only the core team involved (e.g. Developers/ testers/ quality). You may want to consider having an impartial facilitator moderating the retrospective instead of the Scrum Master to encourage more honest views.
  • No distractions
    • I have a sheet of paper on the door of the retrospective room which indicates:
      • No phones
      • Come prepared and focused on the task
      • Listen Openly, no judgements
      • Focus on improvements we can make, not blame
      • Everyone’s opinion is welcome and valid
      • It’s not personal!
  • Prepare accordingly
    • Now my teams are more advanced when it comes to how to do a retrospective, this isn’t needed as much but for newer/less experienced teams I recommend reminded them upfront what is planning to be discussed and what you expectations are for them:
      • What did we do well (this sprint)?
      • What can we improve?
      • Our Actions:

Running a Retrospective

  1. Have all of the ‘boards’ set up ahead of time (What did we do well/ What can we improve/ our actions)
    1. NOTE: if you’re using online boards, make sure that they’re ready /able to be accessed by any remote team members
  2. Time frame:
    1. Introduction: 5 mins
      1. This is where you can set the scene, provide information about timings etc.
    1. Writing: 10 mins
      1. Each team member writes down individual points on post-it’s / in digital post its and keeps them to themselves. There should be a minimum of 1 in each category and it’s important that each new idea is on a different post it.
    1. What went well: 15 mins
      1. Everyone can post their thoughts on the paper/board. Any duplicates can be grouped together accordingly. Discuss each item on the paper (do not take too long)
    1. What can we improve: 15 mins
      1. Everyone can post their thoughts on the paper/board. Any duplicates can be grouped together accordingly. Discuss each item on the paper (do not take too long)
    1. Our actions: 10mins
      1. This paper is derived from the “what can we improve” paper. You can either make this ‘on the fly’ as the points are being discussed for what can be improved or you can give each suggestion to different team members and they can come up with suggestions/ ideas
      1. I would encourage that each action has an “owner” and this person is responsible for implementing this action or ensuring that it gets worked upon..
    1. Close: 5 mins
      1. This is purely a summary point where you can collect final thoughts and indicate what is going to happen after the workshop.

After the retrospective:

I like to make photos of every paper / screenshots of the digital boards and put this in our document repository. Your team can also start implementing any of the suggestions immediately. I would check in / be available in case the team need support in implementing any of the changes or need my help to do it. Some of the best and most valued changes have come from ‘live’ actions during a retrospective.

What to be aware of:

Here are a few tips for leading and not controlling a retrospective:

  • Do not take everything on yourself!
  • Allow silence / time for the team to come up with their own solutions and ideas
  • Give your team the space and floor to speak openly

What about virtual retrospectives?

There are a few templates/tools available for running virtual retrospectives but you need to see what works best for you and your teams. I really like the clean look of the Trello boards but if your company is using specific tools, you can see if you can amend this for your use.

Trello – Atlassian – example. Copyright: Atlassian.

Needing to do virtual retrospectives can be more difficult but if your team are used to working and collaborating virtually, this doesnt need to be a massive problem. I would recommend the following:

  • Do not make the retrospective longer than one hour in duration
  • Allow each member of the team to write their points / explain their opinion
  • Give an opportunity for each team member to give their opinion

Conclusion

I hope that you can find this guide useful and I would appreciate any feedback you have. Have I missed something that you want to include? What else would you like to see?

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