Agile Retrospectives for Beginners

Is your team new to Agile Retrospectives? Are you new to facilitating Agile Retrospectives? Worry Not! SoftwareDevTools is here to help!

We have been working with #Agile teams for quite some time now, especially remote teams. During this time, we've learned that not every team member works the same, we've learned how to deal with reluctance towards retrospectives and even how to improve our current retrospectives. But most of these topics are for someone who is already familiar with Agile Retrospectives. But what if you're just getting started? Well, in this post we want to give some advice to those Retro #N00bs and share an easy to follow retrospective format. Let's do this!

Agile Retrospectives for Confluence

As you may know, Retrospectives are an Agile ceremony (though retrospectives were not pioneered by Agile, it was adopted from other disciplines) were the team gets together and "looks back on or dealing with past events or situations" with the goal of achieving continuous improvement. We can usually recognize 5 stages for a successful retrospective:

  • Set the Stage
  • Gather Data
  • Generate Insights
  • Decide what to do
  • Close the retrospective

The facilitator (Usually the team's Scrum Master, you can try having another team's Scrum Master leading it) is in charge of leading the discussion and making sure the outputs are valuable. We'll talk more about our outputs later on. Let's take it chronologically:

1. Set the Stage: The purpose of the retrospective is to get people to share and discuss. Sometimes they need to share something personal, so there needs to be TRUST to make it possible for everybody to participate.

VENUE: Hold the retrospective in a comfortable & spacious venue. If you are a remote team, a video call will be necessary, and an online board will go a long way by giving everyone real-time information about the topics discussed. If you use Atlassian's tools, try the Agile Retrospectives for Confluence app or our newly released Agile Retrospectives for Jira app. Perfect for remote teams, and for larger teams, even when co-located. Experienced teams might find Trello or a Google Docs to be helpful, although not very intuitive nor engaging. Also, make sure to have some food & drinks available. Coffee & Fruit are a great incentive. You don't want people sleeping in your Retrospective.

MOVE!: Get people moving. That increases blood flow and allows more energy and oxygen to move through our bodies and brains. Try some stretching.

PURPOSE & TRANSPARENCY: (This is important!!!) State the purpose. Lots of poor retrospectives end up wandering about trivial topics and end up with no tangible results or benefits. Also, always remind participants of the Prime Directive:

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

The retrospectives prime directive is a statement that needs to be considered as an assumption by every participant of every sprint. The purpose of the Prime Directive is to assure that a retrospective has the right purpose and the right culture in order to keep the focus results-oriented and to be a positive experience for everyone involved.

2. Gather Data: In this stage, the team will input their ideas. Now, there's A LOT of activities and formats for a team to try for this. We recommend checking out the Good 'Ol Retrospective Wiki & the Retro-mat site for more ideas. The most usual and outright simple & helpful technique for beginners is the "4 L's" technique. Everyone in the team has to answer:

  • What did you Like about the sprint?
  • What did you Learn during the sprint?
  • What did the sprint Lack?
  • What did you Long for during the sprint?

Custom Retrospective Format

Always remember to share the answer with the team and post it on a board. As many answers to each question as the individual feels necessary.

3. Generate Insights: In this stage we need to filter all of the topics to see which ones do the team value the most, and in so doing so, which ones are we going to work on first. Agile Retrospectives for Confluence (or the Jira version) has 2 stages to generate insights: Vote & Discuss. Voting will let us get an idea of what's really an issue.

4. Decide What to do: This is the most important step of the retrospective, and sometimes the most overlooked. So far, you've only voted for the issues that came up, but your team hasn't gotten to an agreement about what to do about them, and that agreement is the most valuable output for your retrospective.
For a Retrospective to be productive, you need to have some ACTION ITEMS as your outputs. This is crucial. The end result of a retrospective is about what to do next, and (helps a lot) who's in charge of making sure that gets worked on.
In some cases, the resulting action items are included in the next sprint to make sure they're attended. Agile Retrospectives for Confluence lets you create those action items and assign them to a team member in Confluence. Same for Agile Retrospectives in Jira but as a Jira task.

Assigned Action items per topic

5. Close the retrospective: Finally, you need to close the session. There are 2 ways of doing so: You can do a formal closing, by going over the outputs and the assignees. Or you can do a lighter closing, with some humor, asking around and involving everyone in the dynamic. You decide which works better with your team. Either way, the purpose is to make sure everyone agrees with the results and that there's understanding of what needs to be done.

If you follow these simple steps, you will most likely have a successful session, with action items to improve and people to work on it.

The next step to becoming an expert in Retrospectives is PRACTICE! You just need to gain experience, learn to know your team and what works or not. There's plenty of activities for each stage of the retrospective. Try your own and share your results with us!

Are you interested in knowing more about Agile Retrospectives? Check out our blog and our Agile Retrospective for Confluence.

Trying to improve your #Agile practices? OR are you getting started with Agile? Are you in a remote team? Check out our products for Agile teams at SoftwareDevTools. We focus on making agile ceremonies more effective and easier to adopt for remote teams.

Check out our Atlassian tools:

Follow us on our networks:
Facebook: /SoftwareDevTools
Twitter: @softwaredevtool
And Subscribe to our blog below!


Agile transformation for distributed teams needs the right tools. At SoftwareDevTools we focus on building tools that enable #Agile in remote teams. Real-time collaboration and productive discussions.

Subscribe to SoftwareDevTools

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!