Introspect the Retrospectives

Retrospectives are integral part of the Scrum lifecycle used to reflect on the team and improve themselves (self-organization and regular adaptation), however, I have witnessed many teams where these meetings have become monotonously repetitive or have tuned into “cribbing sessions”. These retrospectives also tend to get extended (not time-boxed) and usually tend without any tangible change (business value) being addressed or identified.

If your retrospectives have also fallen into the same fate, it is time to change the way you have been conducting the retrospectives and focus on giving a direction to the meetings and make sure that they are time-boxed and end with a quantifiable action item.

Giving Direction to a Directionless Retrospective

If your sprint team tends to go out of bounds with issues and all sorts of (personal, petty and likewise) problems are thrown at you, it is probably a good idea to give your meeting a structure (agenda) by suggestion some discussion topics. A few which I find effective are:

  • Sprint Planning: Was our planning good enough? Did you encounter any surprises during your sprint?
  • Stand-ups: How effectively do we utilize the daily stand-ups.
  • Continuous Integration: Is there any things we can add to our CI in order to improve our efficiency.
  • Time-boxed delivery: Were we able to deliver what we commit to?
  • Feedback from PO: How responsive has our product owner been in clarifying your doubts?
  • Collaboration: How collaborative have we been among ourselves?
  • Retrospective: Are we taking back the learnings from the retrospective meetings?

You can and should tweak this list per your environment and needs, but this should give you a head start.

Focus on Quantification than Qualification

In order to avoid subjective or qualitative remarks, I suggest teams to go for a rating system where-in they give a score between 1 (Lowest) to 10 (Highest). At the end of this poll, your team would have a scorecard for their sprint, where it’s easy to find out the best and the worst performing areas.

Retrospection Score Card

Retrospection Score Card

Now Let’s Talk!

Now that the team has been able to find their strong and weak areas, they can pick up the best and worst topic (or Best 2 and Worst 2) for discussion, wherein they retrospect on how they can improve upon their weakest area, and also review how to further improve (perfection!) their strong points.

Continuously Monitoring your Retrospectives

The score may give your team a structured approach to meet and discuss, however, as a Scrum Master, it is equally important for you to regularly monitor the value being derived from these meetings and for this, I recommend to maintain a trend report comparing the scores from all your sprints.

Retrospective Trend

Retrospective Trend

By analyzing the score card progress over several sprints, you should be able to identify:

  1. Valleys: Issues which have consistently been scoring low, or have been in a downward trend.
  2. Plateaus: Issues which have stabilized over time, but not yet reached the “green zone”. This may be indicating towards stagnation or indifference brewing in your team.
  3. Peaks: Aspects of your team which have continually improved over time, or have sustained themselves in “green zone” for a considerable time.

At some point, you may consider, removing the “Peaks” from the scoring board, and introduce fresh topics, while you maintain focus on Valleys and Plateaus. This will be helpful for you to assess your footing from different vantage points and will also help break the risk of monotony with the team.

Project Health Chart

Project Health Chart

When used effectively, Retrospectives can provide insight on your team’s health and highlight scope of improvement. If you are not satisfied with your retrospectives, change them!

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Certified ScrumMaster, Agile Coach with over 13 years of experience in Product Development, Continuous Integration and enabling ALM adoption across Enterprise

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6 comments on “Introspect the Retrospectives
  1. sarab says:

    An interesting piece -i like the idea , infact the approach would help the scrum master do his retrospective – it will also help teams where chaos is misnomer-ed as Agile with the Scrum Master unable to address issues due to his incapability or due to management pressure .

  2. Vidya Ramachandran says:

    Very good article Mohit. usually retrospectives become a mere formality and lose meaning when done incorrectly. People must realize that retrospectives, if done correctly, can be a real eye opener and will help everyone in the team

  3. Srinath says:

    I agree that when things become more of a ritual some sort of semblance has to be brought it. However in the longer run I would prefer to keep things simple and might consider moving away from documentation and graphs. Usually when teams start gelling and maturing, this can be achieved.

  4. sarab says:

    I agree with Srinath , this is well suited for teams that are up getting up the ladder( and a great way to showcase ) , for mature agile teams this could be a bottleneck and may result as an added activity – may lead to a state where there is dependency on a matrix to evaluate a state .

  5. Manish says:

    i agree.. quick turnaround to the market needs is essence of agile method based execution which requires clearly defined objectives throughout the process therefore anything done without clearly defined objectives would kill the meaning of agile.

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