How to Conduct an Effective Agile Retrospective: A Step-by-Step Guide

The article emphasizes the importance of preparing for and conducting effective retrospectives to improve product quality and work comfort in future sprints. It advises on establishing clear meeting rules, gathering objective data, and facilitating discussions to form actionable plans. Techniques like using a timeline, feedback doors, and metrics overview are recommended to enhance the meeting's productivity. Ensuring all team members' acceptance and contribution to the action plans is crucial for their successful implementation.

The retrospective after the sprint should help the project team achieve better quality manufactured products and improve efficiency and comfort in the next sprint. To this end, the team meets and discusses what they achieved in the last sprint and what they could have done differently in the next sprint. What to do to get the most value out of such a meeting? About this in today’s article.

Prepare for the meeting.

As before every meeting, it is also worth preparing before the retrospective. An unexpected way to prepare for a meeting is to go out together to an unofficial meeting after the sprint or some major stage in the project. I write about it as unobvious, because while you can meet with advice that the end of a sprint or stage in a project is worth celebrating, it is no longer such an obvious matter that such a meeting can be used for two purposes related to conducting a retrospective.

First of all, if there have been any tensions in the team so far, during such a meeting, you can try to eliminate these tensions before they explode during the retrospective. Second, you can talk loosely and informally with various members of the project team to supplement your knowledge about what happened in the time to which the retrospective will relate.

Before the meeting, it is also worth preparing the agenda for the meeting so that the participants have knowledge of how the meeting will proceed. You can also ask you to prepare notes for the meeting, which will certainly speed up the work during the meeting.

Determining the rules that will apply during the meeting

Before the team dives into a discussion about what turned out great and what requires a change of approach, it is good to establish the rules that will apply during the meeting.

It is important that the participants of the meeting feel safe. Not always the design work goes smoothly and sometimes tensions appear in the team. If it is possible to exchange tensions and internal animosities between team members for a joint effort aimed at achieving the goal, then the chances that team members will start working together to agree on specific actions to be implemented in the next stage of the project or sprint increases. What’s more, the chances that the arrangements made will be respected are increasing.

Therefore, try to determine at the very beginning of the meeting what rules will apply during its duration. For example, we can establish that we do not blame each other; we focus on problems and solutions. We listen when someone speaks and do not interrupt such a statement. It is also possible to adopt the principle that regardless of what we discover, we understand and believe that everyone did their job to the best of their ability and had good intentions.

Gather data on the basis of which the rest of the retrospective will be conducted.

When emotions reach their zenith, hard and objective data acts like a bucket of well-cooled ice. It is worth starting the retrospective by gathering information about what happened. If you had the opportunity to attend the meeting I mentioned in the paragraph about preparing for the meeting, you should already have a certain amount of information. However, it is important that the members of the project team draw a picture of the situation as they remember it. This will allow you to draw attention to the fact that different project situations could be perceived by different people in the team in different ways. Thanks to this, further discussion will take on a completely different dimension.

More about communication in projects you can be read in this article: Effective communication of project issues

What tools can you use to support yourself during this part of the conversation?

The most popular are:

  1. Timeline – A simple tool that team members use to mark project-relevant events on a timeline, trying to keep chronology, from oldest to newest event. We list both positive and negative events. We focus on separating events from people.
  2. Feedback doors – Team members write on colored cards what went well, what didn’t work out, and what can be done better. Then, the cards are collected in one place, and the topics discussed on them are discussed later in the conversation.
  3. Overview of metrics – If the team has statistical data and likes to use it, you can support it during the rest of the conversation by discussing it and thinking together about improving these indicators in the future.

Let’s decide about the future.

We have collected information about the project’s progress so far. In the next stage of the retrospective, it is time to analyze these events and discuss whether positive events can be strengthened in the future, what to do so that events that have a negative impact on the project do not occur again, or what action plan to adopt regarding these events to deal with their negative impact on the project faster.

It is important that action plans are accepted by all members of the project team. If one person proposes actions and the team accepts them without objection, there is a good chance that the team will not respect these agreements. As a meeting leader, you need to make sure that the proposed actions are understandable and acceptable to all team members. An additional bonus will be an agreement after which we will know that the action took place and brought the expected effect.

Close a meeting

During the retrospective, a large number of notes will probably be created, or at least it should be so for at least one very important reason: what has been established should be respected during further design work. To do this, keep notes during the meeting and share the notes after the meeting. The project PM should review these notes from time to time and make sure that the agreed actions are taken and their results are in line with the expectations formulated during the meeting.

How to help the project team during the meeting?

You may have already realized that the meeting leader played a key role during the retrospective. Not only does he prepare before the meeting, but above all, during the meeting, he makes sure that the team works on a solution to improve the quality and comfort of work and does not waste time blaming each other.

Therefore, as the leader of the retrospective:

  1. Lead the discussion in a productive direction. Do not allow team members to blame each other, focusing on who did what and what did not do. During the retrospective, the team should work on solving the specific problems that have hindered its work so far and on strengthening those elements that the work has successfully advanced;
  2. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute to the discussion. If one or two people dominate the conversation, ask them to give others a chance to speak. If, despite this, less active people do not take part in the discussion, it is worth changing the workshop’s format to one where everyone takes turns speaking, even if they have only one sentence to say.
  3. Keep an eye on the adopted structure of the meeting. It will be difficult to achieve the intended goal if you allow yourself to relax the form of the meeting and work in subgroups, or lose off-topic conversations. Above in the article I presented an example diagram of the course of the meeting. You can use it or work out your favorite scheme, it is important that the project team learns the scheme before the meeting, and then your role is to keep the team on the right track.
  4. If you have the pleasure of being an impartial person in retro, then you are really lucky because it is good if the host is not involved or has not been involved in the work of the team so far. However, if you do not have this pleasure, do not worry too much about it. Just “apply” at the beginning of the conversation to create an atmosphere of safety and respect, and then be careful that no one breaks the accepted rules. This should help take the conversation to a higher level.

That’s all I’ve prepared in this article. I am convinced that the information contained in it will help you and the project team make better use of the time allocated for the retrospective. This is a very powerful tool in the work of Agil teams, and it is worth using. If you have developed practices that work well during this type of meeting, please share them in the comment so that other interested people will also be able to use them.

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