Main Phases of the Retrospective Meeting | David Tzemach

Updated: Mar 2

There are a few good ways and techniques you can use to perform the retrospective meeting; below is a simple but very effective way of conducting it:

Phase 1 – Facilitate the meeting

The Scrum Master sets up the meeting. The location must establish an atmosphere that makes the team members feel safe and comfortable to raise their insights without feeling judged by others. Once you have set the environment, it’s time to share the invitations with the relevant stakeholders that will take part.


Phase 2 – Create a shared context and break the ice

It all depends on how mature the team is, but for this part, I will assume that your team is relatively new to Scrum. To create a shared context, the SM must start the meeting with a description of the meeting agenda (including timelines), the goal of the meeting and above all, ensure each team member understands its importance for promoting continuous improvement.


For instance, the SM may say something along the lines of:

“Here we are again as a team after completing this challenging sprint. Let’s use this meeting to discuss how we can improve future sprints while examining what worked for us and what impediments are holding us back. For this session, we have only 50 minutes, so let’s do our best to keep the meeting on track.”


After this short opening, each team member should be involved in the meeting as a real contributor. To start this, the SM can use some simple questions to make sure everyone is ready. The questions should not lead to long discussions but allow each team member to speak. This enables the team to contribute in the following phases. In my groups, I use questions like:

  • What did you take from the last sprint?

  • Can you describe the last sprint in less than five words?

  • What individual goals have you achieved?

  • Did you learn anything new?



Phase 3 – Setting the facts for a healthy discussion

This phase aims to create the baseline for a productive conversation. In my teams, I provide a short overview and facts about what happened during the last sprint. This allows everyone to use the baseline as a starting point before sharing their insights. For example:

  • Review the sprint goal and assess with the team whether they can achieve it or not.

  • Name any major incidents that affect the sprint (lack of collaboration, interruptions from external stakeholders, etc.).

  • Show the statistics about planned vs. completed stories delivered by the team.

  • Display the team velocity to show the team what they have been doing overtime.

  • Show statistics from a quality perspective, such as fixed bugs, reduced technical debt, etc.

In addition, I use this phase to review the progress and status of the items identified in the previous Retrospective. Showing progress in this area boosts morale as the team sees that you care about their problems.


Phase 4 –Gathering data from each team member

This phase is the core of the whole meeting. Now that the team has all the facts about the last sprint, it is time for them to share their insights, feelings and opinions.


Formats for gathered data:

There are different formats and techniques that you can use in gathering data, which all work the same way with slight semantic differences in the questions asked. Some of these formats work better than others (depending on the situation), so try to use each of them to decide on the one that works best for your teams. For example:


The traditional approach:

  • What went well?

  • What went wrong?

  • What would we like to do differently?

Alternative (Start, Stop, Continue):

  • What should the team start doing?

  • What should the team stop doing?

  • What should the team continue doing?

Example:

  • Round one – What went well? (10-15 minutes): The team will take five minutes to write down (on a green sticky note) what they think went well in the last sprint. Once they are done, each team member gets the chance (in their turn) to say, without being interrupted, what they thought was going well in the sprint and paste their stickers on the whiteboard (one idea= one sticker).

  • Round two – Where do we need to improve? (10-15 minutes): The same as round one, using red sticky notes. The team should focus on the impediments affecting their work and things they need to remove or improve.

  • Round three – What would we like to do differently? (10-15 minutes): The same as round one, using yellow sticky notes. The team should focus on a specific process, technique or activity that they want to change.

Note:

High-performance teams will not need to waste time in these rounds; they come prepared to collect their insights during the sprint. In my teams, I use web tools such as “Fun Retro” to allow team members to write down their inputs so that when we have a retrospective, we spend the majority of the time on honest discussions and action items that will drive a change.



Phase 5– Group similar issues and uncover the root cause

Once the team has identified their insights, the meeting facilitator groups similar or duplicate inputs together, discussing them briefly as a team. The discussion should focus on finding the root cause of the problems by using different activities such as ‘5 Whys’ or “focused discussion.”


Phase 6 – Prioritization, ownership, and goals

Let us start with prioritization. I can assure you that in most cases, the team will identify more items than it can address during one sprint. When this happens, it is the Scrum Master’s responsibility to decide with the team which items should be handled first to have the most significant impact. Once the team determines the priority of items, the Scrum Master writes them down on an “impediments” board that will be used as a tracking system (there will always be items that cannot be resolved immediately in a single sprint).


Phase 7 – Closing the retrospective

The last phase is to close out the retrospective. Thank the team for their collaboration and participation. Everyone should leave the room with a good feeling that we achieved something great and the meeting was worth their time.

To ensure the meeting achieves its goal, it is crucial that you:

  • Ask your team for suggestions to improve future retrospectives.

  • Ensure that all action items and goals are documented in a visible location.

  • Ensure a team member owns every action item.



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