How to Conduct a Retrospective Meeting for Maximum Impact

Retrospective meetings
As one of the fundamental Scrum ceremonies, the sprint retrospective meeting plays a key role in helping a team constantly “inspect and adapt” in an effort to improve.

Unlike the sprint review, which serves as a means of reviewing the product or increment the team has worked on during the sprint with an eye toward immediate deployment, the sprint retrospective is designed to study the process the team used to carry out the sprint, and to decide on one or more actionable items they can carry into the next sprint.

But how can a retrospective meeting facilitator get the maximum impact from this key hour? Here are three tips for facilitators to apply:

NOTE: This is just a brief glimpse at how to optimize an agile retrospective. For more detail, we recommend reading Effective Retrospectives.

1. Promote Open and Honest Communication

Sometimes human emotions can get in the way of open and honest team communication. This is especially common for relatively new teams or team in the midst of particularly complex or stressful projects.

To truly get the most benefit from a sprint retrospective, it’s important that all team members feel safe and comfortable in airing their frustrations and suggestions for the entire group to discuss. Establishing “a safety zone” at the beginning of the meeting can be very helpful.

The key elements of the safety zone are a removal of judgment (there are no wrong answers or stupid questions) and a unification of the team (there is no “us and them” there is just “us”). Laying that safe groundwork will ensure the rest of the meeting is more productive and beneficial.

2. Collect and Discuss Data to Arrive at a Group Understanding

Once everyone feels comfortable sharing their own opinions and accepting those of other team members, the previous sprint can be reviewed in as much detail as is necessary to touch on all aspects of the process.

As observations are made and discussed, it may be helpful to use a white board or sticky notes to track comments, stay organized and make sense of the discussion.

To get the most benefit out of this part of the meeting, the facilitator must maintain gentle control of the conversation: keeping team members on topic and within the safety zone without stifling discussion or inadvertently biasing opinions.

Once data has been collected the team agrees that all essential matters have been discussed, it’s time to take action.

3. Focus on Executable Action Items

As a final stage of the retrospective meeting, the team should decide on at least one executable action item to carry into the next sprint in an effort to improve the process.

The action item can be as simple as adjusting the team agreements to accommodate a more efficient workflow. It can also be a more extensive change such as how the team interacts with other teams or resources.

Regardless of the scope of the action item, it’s important that the team decides and commits to it during the retrospective meeting. Once the decision is made, it should be recorded in the team wiki or another easily accessible and visible location so team members can reference it as they enter the next sprint.

To learn more about effective agile retrospective meetings and how they fit into the overall scrum framework, we recommend one of our most popular blog posts: How to Get Optimal Value from a Retrospective. And, as always, feel free to contact us to find out how these tips can be applied to your unique circumstances.