Before every retrospective meeting our team has, I think back to one of my favorite quotes from the brilliant Kilroy J. Oldster:

Using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions. Ideas derived from real world experiences lead to acquisition of knowledge, and the accumulation of time-tested principles leads to wisdom.

To me, that’s what sprint retrospective meetings are all about—applying reason to real world experience to build wisdom—and your team needs to do the same.

What is a Retrospective Meeting?

In definition alone, a retrospective meeting is the part of the agile work process that comes after a sprint review but before your next sprint’s planning. The meeting is typically about two/three hours long for a one-month sprint, and the main goal is to improve your team’s processes by examining what went right, what went wrong and how to improve for the next sprint.

But in practice, an agile retrospective meeting builds wisdom from experience, creating a team that is a well-oiled, communicative, productive, iterating machine. Sprint retrospectives have the added bonus of generating measurable commitments to future improvement by assigning responsibilities to individual team members.

Benefits of Retrospective Meetings

There are a number of reasons to have retrospective meetings, including:

  • Create a safe way to download your team’s feedback without pointing fingers
  • Identify actionable potential for improving plans and execution
  • Put team “wins” in the books, making them more tangible and motivational
  • Pinpoint areas of focus where opportunities to improve exist
  • Improve team communication, cohesiveness and maturity
  • Assign specific tasks to team members to ensure that the next sprint is better

If your team can do without these, more power to you—but just think how great they could be if they had these benefits powering their current growth.

How We Run Our Sprint Retrospectives

If you’re ready to get started, it’s important to note that there are many ways/plans to conduct an agile retrospective meeting—this is how we do it:

  1. At Project Completion. All team members involved in the project take 10 minutes to individually write down—on Post-It notes—what they feel was done right, what was done wrong and what could have been done better.
  2. At Meeting Beginning. One at a time, each team member stands in front of the rest of the team. We take turns presenting our written notes to the others while sticking them on a giant whiteboard. We start with the positive feedback, then the negative and finally the room for improvement. Because each person can only talk about each note for 1 minute, it really boils the message down to the overall outcome and lessons.
  3. After Feedback. Once everyone is done presenting their thoughts, we start a thorough discussion of all the negative feedback and room for improvement. We brainstorm and write down any actions that we should follow in order to work more efficiently, effectively and successfully on the next project. The most important part? Each action has a person assigned to it to ensure that we follow through on the next sprint.

How to Run Your First Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Now that is just the plan that works for us—it might not be the best way for your company to run a retrospective. No matter what plan you go with, we recommend that you work off of the five basics of retrospective meetings:

  1. Set the Stage. The meeting space should be relaxing and comfortable to foster focus and engagement. Set goals for the meeting.
  2. Gather Data. Data includes both facts and feelings and helps you build a shared, clear picture of the sprint based on the entire team’s perspectives.
  3. Generate Insights. Discuss what went right, and then pinpoint obstacles to success. Brainstorm solutions that will create a better “shared picture” at the end of the next sprint.
  4. Decide What to Do. Implement the most viable solutions. Create measurable goals and assign one individual to take charge of each specific solution/task.
  5. End on a High Note. Recap the retrospective at the end of the meeting, signifying the value of what was decided as well as the value of the team’s participation. It’s a good idea to close with a fun task.

Once you get a feel for running your own sprint retrospectives, you can try more advanced problem-solving techniques like impact mapping. It’s also a smart idea to keep your retrospective meetings fresh and unique by changing up the plans. Start out with some beginner retrospective plans and then check out this free online sprint retrospective plan tool to really get the creative juices flowing. Then it’s full speed ahead—with a nice little push from the past.

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