Should the Sprint Retrospective be Confidential?

Last post 10:10 pm June 15, 2022
by Ian Mitchell
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12:56 pm June 15, 2022

The whole Scrum Team participates in the Sprint Retrospective, during which we all look for ways to increase quality and effectiveness. We all know that.

But should the contents of the Sprint Retrospective be confidential?

Openness vs Confidentiality

We want developers to be able to speak openly and honestly about the problems they've encountered. After all, the Scrum Guide states that during the Sprint Retrospective, "the Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved."

Obviously, the development team would not be able to be open and honest about things if they felt the Product Owner was reporting back to the stakeholders they represent. So that would imply a need for confidentiality.

But at the same time, openness is one of the Scrum Values, which would go against the idea of talks being confidential.

So how do you strike the right balance, or is it a balance at all? What's the most Scrumtuous approach? :)

06:09 pm June 15, 2022

The Product Owner is also part of the Scrum Team.  So they could be nervous about the Developers talking to other Developers about their Product Owner.  It boils down to trust.  Everyone needs to build trust with one another and accept that no one is there to cause any harm.  The last sentence is the Scrum Guide's section on the Values is

When these values are embodied by the Scrum Team and the people they work with, the empirical Scrum pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation come to life building trust.

Should it be confidential?  That is up to the team to decide.  There may be some topics discussed that they want to stay within the team. But there could be some that would be good to share outside so that stakeholders and the organization at large can see that the team is inspecting and adapting themselves. 

I advocate that anything said, done or discovered during the Scrum Team's work to improve the product is going to be shared outside of the team. If there is a specific reason and team agreement not to share, that is a special case. 

08:13 pm June 15, 2022

if they felt the Product Owner was reporting back to the stakeholders they represent. So that would imply a need for confidentiality.

But at the same time, openness is one of the Scrum Values, which would go against the idea of talks being confidential.

If the Product Owner actually did that, what would it indicate about respect? A selective or one-sided treatment of the Scrum Values is unlikely to prove rewarding.

08:34 pm June 15, 2022

Yes Ian, but if the Scrum Team felt disrespected, what would it say about the team's commitment to openness and courage?

Truth and honesty isn't a Scrum Value, but if people are being truthful and honest, they should have the courage to stand behind their words. And yes, it takes courage to speak out when things aren't going well.

So if you are being truthful, you are being open, and you are courageously addressing issues that are acting as impediments to achieving the Sprint Goal, what should it matter if issues are raised with external stakeholders?

Thing is, I could argue that position, but at the same time, it doesn't actually sit well with me.

I tend to agree with Daniel: "anything said, done or discovered during the Scrum Team's work to improve the product is going to be shared outside of the team." 

And to Ian's point, I agree with him that it would be disrespectful. The content of the Scrum Retrospective shouldn't be confidential, but I might say a person must use discretion with regards to what they share with others.

The team must feel free enough to be honest and open, but at the same time, they shouldn't feel like the eyes have walls. I good product owner will show discretion with regards to what they share with stakeholders.

As Agile practitioners, we value the continuous delivery of software. Let the increments of software presented at the Scrum Review speak for themselves as much as possible.

09:27 pm June 15, 2022

Wow. Thank you everyone for such fast and thorough responses.

There is definitely a common thread throughout each response that reiterates the Scrum Values.

This was my first question on the board and I'm really impressed!

Thank You

[Image from Wikipedia Commons, produced under a shared license]

10:10 pm June 15, 2022

if the Scrum Team felt disrespected, what would it say about the team's commitment to openness and courage?

Indeed...a selective or one-sided treatment of the Scrum Values is unlikely to prove rewarding.