5 Things You Should Never Say (or Do) During Sprint Retrospective

From my experience working with new Scrum teams over the past few years, it has become apparent that the Retrospective is THE single most difficult Scrum event for most teams. Even experienced teams have a tendency to struggle with this due to a variety of reasons. In this article, I will share a few things to avoid in hopes of helping you improve the value you get out of this important aspect of Scrum.
During your Sprint Retrospective, you should NEVER…

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  1. Say “Scrum doesn’t work” – Although it is entirely possible that Scrum is not the right fit for your team, many teams that are new to Scrum do not give this new way of working a chance because of a variety of reasons. While it is easy to place blame on a process or framework, the Retrospective is intended to explore how to improve instead of criticizing what is not working.
  2. Say “I’m tired of this problem” – It is also entirely possible that a new Scrum team will encounter issues that are much larger and more complex than the team can address. For example, leadership and organizational dysfunctions often impeded the team’s ability to change how they work. In this case, it is worthwhile to acknowledge the limitations of what the team can affect, even if the team is not able to directly address the issues.
  3. Leave the meeting without committing to any improvements – One of the biggest mistakes that new Scrum teams can make is to air their frustrations, discuss possible solutions, then going back to their normal business without making a plan to address the issues. Repeated occurrence of this approach may be the quickest way to deteriorate the value of this meeting to the point where the team members will no longer be interested in attending. To address this, take one small improvement and make it a work item for the next sprint so that it is visible to the team and encourages the team to follow through with making this change.
  4. Focus solely on negatives/failures – It is human nature to be pessimistic due to our intrinsic mentality of survival instincts. Hence, we tend to see the negatives in most situations, especially when our livelihood or security is threatened. The intent of the Retrospective is not only to focus on failures but to also highlight and reinforce successes, however trivial they may seem. Having both good and bad is a delicate balance that most teams need time (and experience) to achieve.
  5. Blame others for problems – Similar to an excessive focus on negatives, we often find it easier to blame others for our struggles or failures. Try to avoid jumping into this mode because it can create a negative dynamic that puts a barrier to the exploration of ideas and innovation.

In summary, the Sprint Retrospective is arguably the most important Scrum event that is also the most difficult to execute well. Having the right attitude and mindset can make a tremendous difference in the value and effectiveness of this collaboration. When in doubt, explore the variety of resources online to experiment with different forms/styles of Retrospectives so that your team can make continuous improvement a part of what they do.

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai