Do's & dont's for your Agile Retrospective sessions

The SoftwareDevTools team considers Retrospectives so valuable that not only do we run them frequently, we have also developed a tool that makes it really easy to perform them. And there is also a whole section dedicated to them in this blog. You can say we are really into reviewing the past to realize how could things get better in the short term.

That said, we are on a quest to help teams and organizations improve how they conduct their agile Retrospectives and get value for themselves. A team review about the past can quickly turn into a hostile discussion on who's to blame, or even worse: Detecting the issues but not bringing any potential solution renders your ceremony completely useless, wasting your team's time, impacting your budget.

Don't be the person who ends up having to justify why the developers spent so much time in sapless meetings talking about a finished sprint. Instead, we think your Retrospectives can come close to perfection if you follow the next Do's and Dont's.

Topics to check

  1. When and why
  2. The Do's
  3. The Dont's

When and why

Agile Retrospective ceremonies are usually held at the end of each sprint to reflect on how things went during that period. The most usual approach is gathering the team and ask each one to share what went right, what could have been better, and what was learned. It is recommended to add an ice-breaker activity before going through the questions round. Here you can learn the official Agile Alliance definition.

After gathering all the feedback, the session focuses on discussing the most relevant topics to develop potential solutions that will eventually become follow-up action items.

As easy as it reads, conducting effective Retrospectives requires mastering people skills, which can only be acquired by experience, meaning that practice is critical. Still, you should always be sure to use appropriate frameworks and tools.

If you want to learn more about the structure of Retrospectives and how to get the most value of them, check this other article about making your sessions as effective as possible.

The Do's

If you are already running Retrospectives regularly but think they could be better, you should take a grip of the following tips:

Use precise vocabulary

The easiest way to effectively communicate is to use the exact words and take time to explain any misunderstanding, yes, but it goes way beyond: It is about how you ask. It's not the same to ask "What else?" than "Anything else?". The first one has a neutral connotation, while the latter uses "anything," a word that could be perceived as unfavorable. And you should remain calm and kind as well.

Motivate participation

As the primary input for the session comes from the attendees, you must encourage people to raise their opinions, being confident that their opinions matter. This also includes giving a hand to shy or introverts, as their perspectives could flag a situation that the more extroverted colleagues might not consider an issue.

Foster team safety

Remember, a Retrospective is conducted by the team for the team itself to identify opportunity areas, address them and act upon them to constantly improve. If you want them to be open and honest, they must be sure that nothing they say will be used against them. You need people to be themselves.

Plan the session

You must schedule an appropriate day and time in advance and let the team know to fit it into their agendas. You should also prepare a basic structure and some ice breakers. The Scrum Master can gather feedback from the group and agree in advance about the Retrospective agenda to focus on deep discussion and problem solving during the meeting. And also: Keep your sessions within the planned time box.

Make it fun

Gamify your ceremony with animated features to boost engagement. This is always a good approach, especially if the team's morale is low or new to Retrospectives. Try to make the meeting an enjoyable experience. Be creative with this. What works for some may not work for others.

Prioritize action items

Assign follow-up items to owners who will make sure the tasks get completed. An owner is not really who's doing the work, but who'll make sure it gets done. Keep a backlog of impediments and action items in prioritized order to get the most significant value. Some teams even add these action items to their sprint queue.

Another low-hanging fruit that will boost your Retrospectives from day one is adopting a specialized tool for running these sessions. Whether in-place or remotely, the Agile Retrospectives add-on for will make your ceremonies more engaging than ever. Start your free trial now!

The Dont's

Agile anti-patterns can emerge at any time and mess with your Retrospective sessions. We could consider that some of them are the legacy of more rigid frameworks oriented toward reporting to management. That is why you must be cautious to prevent and correct any of them as soon as they appear.

Play the blame game

Negativity will ruin your meeting. This is not a meeting where team members blame each other for the bad things that happened. Adopt a positive attitude toward the meeting and the issues shared. Remember that the objective is to get better and define follow-up action items to achieve that improvement notion in a concrete way.

Suppress feelings

If some team members feel depressed or unsatisfied because of some practices, give them space to let these feelings out. Discuss them rationally instead of denying them. Don't let the negative attitude control the meeting either: Try to find what causes those emotions and work on it.

Include uninvited folks

Maintain intimacy so people can openly express themselves. It is better to set a different meeting for the product owner or other managers to discuss specific issues.

Leak information

All the team should know which data is shared and to who. Any details regarding the session or the teams' work should only be available for approved stakeholders.

Saturate action items

The idea behind follow-up action items is to follow them to make sure they get done. In that sense, our best advice is to stick to two or three action items, so it is easier to complete them.

How many of these have popped-up during your Retrospective sessions? Would you say most of them have been Do's? Then you are doing a good job. Otherwise, you can start improving right away by following this checklist. Also, feel free to reach us on social media or email to let us know any more Do's or Dont's that you would add to the list.

Highlights summary

  • An agile retrospective is mainly run for the team to discuss what went well and what didn't during the past sprint. It must be kept only for the involved team so everyone feels comfortable to share their perspective.

  • The main goal of an agile retrospective is to conceive action items that can improve practices and proceses for the next sprint in order to keep constantly improving.

  • The Scrum Master should teach the team how to run a retrospective, so even if he can't attend, the session will take place and be useful.

Are you adopting or looking to improve your Agile practices? Is your team remote? If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you should check out our products for distributed teams. We focus on making communication more effective and easier for remote teams.

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