One of my co-workers recently asked me a question that I have heard many times before, “What’s the point of the Sprint Retrospective? Nobody on my team wants to attend because they think it’s a waste of time.”
I wasn’t surprised at this question not because that I have heard it on numerous occasions, but because I understand that the Sprint Retrospective is likely the most difficult Scrum event to execute effectively. Why is this the case? Most Scrum training classes do not offer specific guidance on exactly how to facilitate this meeting effectively. Even certified Scrum Master training courses dedicate a very small amount of time to this topic. Ironically, the Sprint Retrospective is arguably the most important of the four Scrum events.
So, what can we do to help our teams get more value out of this mysterious meeting that feels like a burden on the team? I have compiled a list of things that you should watch out for in effort to run an effective Sprint Retrospective meeting. Take a look and see if your team is unintentionally doing something that’s not helpful.
1. Assume people are prepared – It is very likely that your team does not understand how to prepare for the Sprint Retrospective because they don’t know what to expect. This leads to an ineffective meeting since the team has not thought about what improvements they would like to make. Give your team some guidance on what to think about prior to attending the meeting so that they can share their successes and challenges.
2. Assume people understand why things didn’t go as planned – Problems are common but solutions take time to develop. It is very possible that your team may have run into issues related people, processes or tools, but don’t know how to resolve them. Do not let them stop you from discussing the issues and investigating a root cause.
3. Assume your team wants to improve – Some teams experience a phenomenon that is commonly known as “change fatigue” due to a continuously evolution of change that does not provide stability or perceived benefit. This could lead to indifference which is poison for a Scrum team. If your team lacks motivation or the desire to improve, you will need to inspire them somehow.
4. Hold meeting without Product Owner – Many teams do not include the Product Owner because that person is often “too busy” with other matters. This does not create an effective dynamic and reinforces the communication gap that is likely already present. Make a concerted effort to engage the Product Owner as often as possible, and give him/her the opportunity to share feedback on what is working and what might need work.
5. Expect the Scrum Master to have all the solutions – The Scrum Master is not a miracle worker, so don’t expect him/her to have all the answers to all of the problems. Work together as a team to dive into critical issues and understand the root cause, then you can achieve shared ownership of the problem as well as the solution.
The Sprint Retrospective is the easiest Scrum event to abandon because it is the most difficult one to master. Do not give in to this temptation! Not holding these conversations takes away important opportunities for your team to reflect on their experiences and grow, which is at the core of having an Agile mindset. It may take a few tries, but once your team sees how this meeting works, they will be able to use it to their advantage. As usual, don’t hesitate to ask other teams for help; a seasoned Scrum Master can accelerate this learning process tremendously.