How to Improve Your Retrospectives in 7 Steps

Apr 19, 2024 | Scrum, Scrum Master

Retrospectives are the most important event in all of Scrum. That’s not just me saying this, that’s Ken Schwaber, the co-inventor of Scrum. Yet Retrospectives easily turn into problem discussions that have little impact on the actual work itself. Sooner or later, teams and managers start to skip or fully abandon Sprint Retrospectives – and things generally go downhill from there.

So how can a Scrum Master lead effective and efficient Sprint Retrospectives? What are the crucial elements of this Scrum event? Here is a proven 7 step guide how to lead awesome Retrospectives. For a more thorough article on these steps, read the article Why Your Sprint Retrospectives Fail and How to Make them Inspire Real Change.

  1. Review & Measure
    This first step is often skipped, but it’s crucial! Take 5min to look back on the action items from your last retrospective. Did you actually do it? Did it move the needle? Should you continue it, stop it, or find alternatives? This step will ensure you actually follow through with continuous improvement.
  2. Jog Your Memory
    The recency effect let’s us remember yesterday clearer than what happened last week. Retrospectives should cover the entire Sprint, not just most recent events. So help you team to remember every day of the Sprint. Some techniques are in this article.
  3. Collect Problems & Ideas
    Now we can collect what went good and what went bad. Pick any of your favorite Retrospective formats for this part. Remember to not only collect problems, but also experiments you’d like to do or improvement ideas you have. Acknowledge the good stuff and make an effort to keep doing or enhancing that! And don’t spend all your time on this step – this is just the kick-off to brainstorm improvement ideas. Finally, pick the 1-3 most pressing issues (see the flare & focus approach described in this article)
  4. Find the Root Cause
    The problems we see are often just symptoms of a deeper root cause. We want to tackle the disease, not the cough. So dig deeper: What’s causing the problem you see? Make use of the “5 Whys” method. Find that root cause. A word of caution: Don’t get caught in negativity. Read the room – if the mood is low, don’t push too far. Get on to the next step.
  5. Generate Improvements
    Now we’re at the core of the Sprint Retrospective. Hopefully you didn’t spend too much time on steps 1-3, so that we can focus on improvements now. Brainstorm improvement ideas to fix the root causes identify in step 4. Again lick the 1-3 most promising ideas before moving to the next step (flare & focus)
  6. Create Action Items
    The improvement ideas from step 5 of the Retrospective are often too vague. Now it’s time to make them actionable. Brainstorm clear action items, things you can and will do in the upcoming Sprint. Finally, narrow it down to 1-3 action items – trust me, you won’t have time for more in your next Scrum Sprint! It’s all about following through – small continuous improvements always beat occasional big initiatives.
  7. Do it!
    Put the action items on your Sprint Backlog. Touch on them during your Daily Scrum. Follow through.

These 7 steps for your Sprint Retrospective are just a brief summary. You can find deeper explanations in the full article Why Your Sprint Retrospectives Fail and How to Make Them Inspire Real Change

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