Skip to main content

Navigating the Scrum Events - Sprint Retrospective

November 30, 2023

What is the ‘Navigating the Scrum Events’ Series?

If you or your team are new to Scrum, you can use this as a starting point to answer, “what should we be doing and why?” for each Scrum Event. If your team is more experienced but you feel like you’re drifting away from healthy behaviors and patterns and you’re not sure how to course correct - you can use this series as a baseline to reset and start re-aligning your team. This is NOT the end-all-be-all perfect way to operate for all scenarios - but a straight-to-the-point tactical list of steps to help you get to the basic outcomes you need at the end of the event.

Sprint Retrospective Board

Sprint Retrospective - What’s The Point?

The Scrum Guide declares the purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is “to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.” The event is held by the Scrum Team to identify the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness. This is a meta conversation by the Scrum Team on how the Scrum Team operates - not a product feedback session. How the team operates can encompass personal behaviors, communication patterns, processes and tools, as well as shared expectations across the team like a working agreement and the Definition of Done.   


Sprint Retrospective Tactics

** Remember - this isn’t the end-all-be-all perfect way to operate for all scenarios - this is just one guided format for facilitating a Scrum Retrospective. There are many different structured and unstructured approaches to facilitating an effective Sprint Retrospective.

1. Prepare a Three Column Board

  • Create a whiteboard (or virtual whiteboard using tools like Trello, EasyRetro, Mural, or many others) with three columns titled:
    • What Went Well?
    • What Could Be Improved?
    • Risks

2. Set the Stage

  • Review the Retrospective Prime Directive as a team
    • It is crucial that the members of your Scrum Team feel safe in the Sprint Retrospective event in order to enable the type of open and honest conversation and collaboration that is needed to align on identifying the most important and impactful opportunities for improvement. Check out Jay’s deep dive on the Prime Directive for more.

3. Cardstorm

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes and have each member write topics on post-it notes of the topics they want to discuss in the three areas
  • I would highly recommend adding a card to review and discuss your action item(s) from your last Sprint Retrospective meeting

4. Gallery Walk and Dot Voting

  • If you have a large team or a lot of topic cards that were created - start with a Gallery Walk to group or combine cards with the same topics
  • Set a short timer and have each member of the team vote on the topics they think are most important for the team to discuss. Each person gets 5 votes to spend however they like.
  • Order the topic cards by those that received the most votes first

5. Discuss

  • Open discussion with the card that received the most votes
  • If the team’s conversation is tangential - you can help realign focus with some of the following prompts:
    • What about this is within our control versus outside of our control?
    • How did our behaviors and patterns enable or contribute to this outcome?
    • What might we do differently if we are presented with a similar situation in the future? 
    • Was this a purposeful experiment or a regular practice for us?
    • Is there a potential action item anyone can think of we should capture around this?
  • Capture potential action item ideas that are brought up during the discussion
  • Continue discussion with the next highest voted topic, repeating until you have 5 minutes left in your time-box

6. Action Item

  • Shift the discussion to review the potential action item ideas that were captured
  • Guide the team into selecting one or two action items that the team believes will bring about the most valuable change
  • You can pose some of the following questions to the team during this discussion to help focus the selection:
    • Which action item do you think will have the most significant positive impact?
    • Are there any potential downsides or risks if we do this?
    • Is this within our control or influence to change?
    • How do we expect to notice the result of this action item?
  • Get explicit verbal clarity on who is taking ownership of actions and when the team will follow-up on them together


When The Sprint Retrospective Is Over...

When the Sprint Retrospective is complete, the following should be true:

  • The Scrum Team will have shared and celebrated the most positive impactful things that went well during the sprint
  • The Scrum Team will have shared and collaborated on the topics that could be improved together
  • The Scrum Team will have identified one or two things they believe will help them improve how they work together or the outcome of their next sprint


Inspect and Adapt

Don’t stop now! Your team should be able to have Sprint Retrospectives that result in clearly identified action items that your team commits to working on improving - but if you are just going through the motions - over time you might fall victim to becoming stuck in Mechanical Scrum! The Retrospective is a key moment for your team to learn to inspect and adapt how you are working together and continue to strive toward living the Scrum Values and true Professional Scrum. Remember there are many different approaches and formats to experiment with for Sprint Retrospectives. Here are some ideas of how to start making your Sprint Retrospective move effective.

What did you think about this post?