Sprint Retrospective

Definition: A sprint retrospective is a regularly occurring meeting held at each sprint end. In this meeting, participants explore their work and results to improve both process and product. They discuss what went well and what didn’t during the previous sprint cycle and how it can be improved in the next sprint. 

Retrospectives are a form of lessons learned meetings. They help improve the quality and effectiveness of the agile project, make the process smoother and more streamlined, and ensure that the next sprint is more successful than the previous sprint.

In a sprint retrospective, three questions are generally asked:

  • What went well during the previous sprint?
  • What didn’t go well in the previous sprint?
  • What should we do to improve?

The above questions can be related to team members, communication, processes, tools, and the Definition of Done. Then, the team creates a plan and lists the improvements for the next sprint.

Sprint Retrospective Meeting Specifics

Timebox

  • 1 hour for a two-week sprint and 2 hours for a four-week sprint

Attendees

  • Scrum Master
  • Scrum Team
  • Product Owner (optional)

When

  • At the end of the sprint and before planning the next sprint

Outputs of Sprint Retrospective Meeting

A sprint retrospective meeting will have agreed-on actionable improvements as an output. The output of the meeting will have a list of actionable items that need to be addressed, including process improvement suggestions for future sprints. Each action item will have an assignee and due dates for the scrum master follow-up. 

Usually, non-functional requirements (e.g., response time) are not completely clarified at the beginning of the project and can surface during the sprint retrospective meeting. These items are added to the prioritized product backlog whenever they are discovered.

The scrum master will also update the lessons-learned document. If an action item for the risk is discussed during the retrospective meeting, the scrum master will update the risk register and the risk backlog.

What is the Purpose of a Sprint Retrospective Meeting?

The sprint retrospective meeting aims to develop plans to improve quality and effectiveness. The scrum team inspects how the last sprint went regarding individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done, etc. The Definition of Done might vary from scrum team to scrum team. The team members must have a common understanding of “done” to decide if the deliverable is completed and meets requirements.

The scrum master facilitates the retrospective meeting and discusses what went well and what didn’t during the previous sprint, whether they encountered problems, etc. The scrum team identifies the solutions to improve the product quality. The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. Some action items might be added to the sprint backlog for the next sprint.

The scrum master ensures the scrum team improves its quality and effectiveness and creates an enjoyable environment for the team to work in the next sprint.

Sprint Retrospective Template

Below is an example of a sprint retrospective template.

sprint retrospective template

Who Runs the Sprint Retrospective Meeting?

The scrum master facilitates the sprint retrospective meeting. Product owner presence is optional but recommended. One team member acts as the scribe and documents the discussion and items for future action. All team members will have perspectives on how the past sprint went and share their experiences to improve the quality of the product.

The scrum master also checks the quality standards of the product. If they find deviations, the scrum master and the team will take corrective action and fix the deliverable. Subsequently, the causes of deviations will be discussed in the sprint retrospective meeting.

Some stakeholders and managers don’t join the sprint retrospective meetings unless specifically invited when there are specific agenda points that need to be discussed with them. However, these members can participate in sprint review meetings to verify the acceptance criteria and see the product demos.

How to Run a Sprint Retrospective Meeting

It is essential to run the sprint retrospective meeting in an open and relaxed environment to encourage the active participation of all team members.

As a moderator, the scrum master will set the ground rules, explain the meeting goals and ask the team members to come prepared.  

The common goal of the meeting is to improve the overall process, which happens by gathering essential data, developing insights, and deciding on the next steps. In this meeting, the scrum master will ensure that members don’t take any discussions personally and focus on improvement rather than playing the blame game. 

They ensure that team members listen with an open mind and they understand what others are saying, as everyone’s experience matters.

Tools Used for the Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Sprint retrospective meetings can be done on a whiteboard or can use tools like Confluence, Trello over Zoom meetings, or can even be documented in a plain Word document. This meeting can show a timeline of events from the past two months so the team members can see achievements.

Before the sprint review meeting, the team can do some exercises like those listed below.

Explorer-Shopper-Vacationer-Prisoner (ESVP)

This exercise can be done before the sprint retrospective meeting to understand the participant’s mindset.

Here, participants are asked anonymously how they feel about their participation in this meeting by asking them to choose one of the options below. 

  • Explorer: Wants to participate in and learn everything discussed in the retrospective
  • Shopper: Wants to listen to everything and choose what they take away from the retrospective
  • Vacationer: Wants to relax and be a tourist in the retrospective
  • Prisoner: Wants to be elsewhere and is attending the retrospective because it is required

The scrum master then collects the responses and shares the information within the group, and sets the tone for the meeting.

Speed Boat Game

Speed boat is a technique used to conduct the sprint retrospective meeting. In this game, team members play the role of the crew on a speed boat. The boat must reach an island, which is symbolic of the project vision. 

The attendees use sticky notes to record engines and anchors. Engines help them reach the island, while anchors hinder them from reaching the island. This exercise is time-boxed to a few minutes. The scrum master will discuss the project goal and ask team members to record what went well (engines) and what did not (anchors).

Once all items are documented, the information is collected, discussed, and prioritized through voting. Engines are recognized, and mitigation actions are planned for the anchors based on the priority.

Metrics and Measuring Techniques

There are various metrics like Velocity, Estimation Variance, Committed Vs Done, Review Feedback, and Defects Injected Rate that can be used to measure and compare the team’s performance in the current sprint with previous sprints. The scrum masters collect these data points before the retrospective meeting for discussion.

Once the metrics are captured, the scrum master uses prioritization techniques like Dot Voting on ideas to prioritize them for the next sprint. In Dot Voting, team members will vote on each action item, and the top-voted items will be picked up for the next sprint.

Sprint Retrospective Examples

Some examples of sprint retrospective meetings are:

  • Start, stop, continue
  • Glad, sad, mad
  • Sailboat
  • The 4 L
  • Starfish
  • Feedback Grid
  • Liked, learned, lacked
  • Lessons learned
  • Three little pigs

Commonly Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Sprint Retrospective and Sprint Review?

A sprint review involves reviewing the sprint deliverables. Here, the scrum team demonstrates the work done to the product owner and relevant stakeholders and gets approval and acceptance of the product or service.

In a sprint retrospective meeting, the scrum master and the scrum team meet to discuss the lessons learned throughout the sprint, and it happens after the sprint review. The information is documented as lessons learned so that it can be applied to future sprints.

When is a Sprint Retrospective Meeting Held?

The sprint retrospective meeting is held at the end of the sprint (usually after the sprint review meeting) and before the sprint planning for the next sprint. Some teams get tempted to combine sprint review meetings with sprint retrospective meetings. However, these meetings must be kept separate as both meetings serve different purposes and are attended by different stakeholders.

Who Should Attend the Sprint Retrospective Meeting?

The scrum master moderates the sprint retrospective meeting, and the whole scrum team should attend, and it is optional for the product owner to attend. However, a product owner’s presence can be helpful as they encourage honest discussion among the team members.

What is the Duration of the Sprint Retrospective Meeting?

Sprint retrospective meetings have no fixed duration. The meeting duration depends on several factors such as team size, the experience of the team, if the team is remotely located, etc. As a rule of thumb, if the sprint duration is two weeks, the sprint retrospective duration can be 1 hour, and a four-week sprint can have a two-hour retrospective meeting.

Conclusion

A sprint retrospective meeting is an important Agile process conducted at the sprint end and before the planning of the next sprint. The scrum master leads this meeting and ensures that the common goal of the meeting is achieved.