Tips for effective Agile Retrospective Ceremony

Hello All,

Welcome back in this blog I will cover one of the key ceremony for Agile framework. In my last blog I wrote how we can avoid Agile estimation errors by adopting various estimation techniques. What is not important for us is to be 100% accurate in estimation in the first attempt (Agile is an Art of Grooming using Intelligent Lean Engineering) but key point there is to embrace the right intent and the outcome. Over last decade, Agile practices had matured and is one of the most adopted and accepted framework across industries. Industries are going through a Disruptive Evolution phase where Agility is the key to success, irrespective of domain.


There are certain questions on should try to answer:

  1. Does sprint retrospective a single man show, by so called “SCRUM MASTER” or “TEAM LEAD” or “PROEJCT MANAGER”?
  2. Does sprint retrospective ceremony add any value to the team?
  3. How frequently should we have sprint retrospective ceremony?
  4. Do we have measures or KPIs to measure the effectiveness of retrospectives? Do we really need one?
  5. Flash back your retro meetings, did everyone spoke and share their experience?

My 2 cents, based on my discussion in various external forums, one common theme which came loud and clear was Retrospective ceremony is not at all fruitful, rather it is waste of time and effort. Leads hear out what they are interested in and never try to extract concerns or put in effort to implement corrective actions. Is this a perception or reality? There could be 2 scenarios either “Team members are not cultivated enough to understand Agile principles and they always felt retrospective is not useful” or “Retro ceremony is actually not adding any value to the whole Agile practice”. When I did research on this subject, I can confidently conclude it is mix of both, more so inclined towards retrospective ceremonies are not well planned, structured, driven and managed by Scrum Master or Leads.

Why do we really need Retrospective ceremony, who should participate and what we should achieve out of it? Let us try to understand more on these critical aspects.

“Retrospective ceremony could be considered as a great critic, friend and shadow for oneself, which helps one collect lessons learnt and opportunities to do better iteratively” – AG

Do we need Retrospective ceremonies?

There is no second thought around it, “Yes” we need it and it is one of the key ceremony for Agile but if real essence of it is embraced and practiced. I completely support the need of Sprint Retrospective Ceremony.

What should be the Frequency for Sprint Retrospective? Should we have it after every sprint or milestone based or at regular intervals? Anything that becomes the norm and time bound it loses the spirit of its existence. Ideally it should be real time as and when needed but success of that depends on the maturity of the Agile team. Keeping in view team mix I would recommend have it after any logical conclusion of tasks. Having said this defining the logical frequency help define frequency and set’s expectation with the need of this ceremony. How about retrospective ceremony after every 2 sprints or every alternate week as the frequency for collecting, deciding and debating on the topics.

Who should participate in retrospective ceremonies?

All stakeholders, whose action can impact positively or negatively impact project progress. Yes, client being part of this ceremony is very important. This will help client appreciate progress. Transparency and freedom to speak help embrace, ONE TEAM culture and OPENESS. If needed for individual to speak up, Scrum Master or Project Managers can be restricted to be part of sprint retrospective.

This section will be incomplete without discussing the importance of #Moderator and #AgileCoach. Moderator should be someone from outside the team and it could be an independent Agile coach or Leader within the organization, who understand business objective and equally pays importance to people motivation.

How to conduct retrospective ceremonies?

Should moderator come up with define structure or questions? Nothing wrong with this approach, only point to keep in mind is not to discourage anyone sharing their view or cut down their voice. Inculcate the culture of speak up and open feedback. Accept feedback from all and create a list of all points without filtration. Start funneling feedback points based on collective decision by the same group. Identify high impacting items and start working on the plan of action.

 What is the essence of having Retrospective ceremony?

This ceremony provides a formal structure for everyone in the team to come together and try to comprehend

  • What went well?
  • What did not go as per plan?
  • How we can correct unintentional tangential to bring outcomes as expected?
  • How to encash positives and improve on gaps?

In additional to above key question, it is also very important to understand team’s motivation level, we should keep track of Satisfaction and Motivation (S&M) barometer reading.

So the essence of retrospective is not to just keep track of agile maturity practices but also people S&M indicator. Collectively next steps should be defined.

Looking into past , historical data, play vital role in understanding how things have been thus far and what we should do better. Do not focus on negatives but dig out positives and appreciate individuals. Appreciation is rare commodity now a days for agile projects where team continue to churn user stories to delivery client value on short fuse sprints.

Focus on Outcome not Outputs alone – AG

Few Tips and Tricks to run Successful Retro’s:

  • First retro might be long enough to set ground rules, but following Retro’s should be on time.
  • Do not try to solve all problem in the world. Focus on top 4-5 areas.
  • Divide who discussion into 2 sections Long Term and Short Term.
  • Open discussion help people speak up.
  • Keep Supervisors, Scrum masters and Project manager away as needed.
  • Involve customer in retro discussions.
  • Measure progresses from last retro and seek feedback from everyone helps.
  • Keep time keeper for each discussion point.
  • Do not preach theory and talk data. Focus on facts.
  • Rewards individuals for good work.
  • Innovate and identify theme for each retro.
  • Document and circle back point, be LEAN.
  • HELP each other rather then PULL each other.
  • Thank you everyone for their commitment.

Let customer be part of this ceremony and provide real time feedback on the process and people. I would question why Sprint Review should happen later and go for Sprint Retrospective ceremonies first. Conducting Sprint Review with end customer and then Sprint Retrospective with all stakeholders will help provide different viewpoint what customers are looking for.

Agile practices had evolved overtime and there are external experts available who can also help conduct retrospective ceremonies. Organizations and Leaders had invested in Scrum with an objective to gain AGILTY. Let us make sure we collectively make it a success and help end customer achieve business goals with early access to the product and outcomes.

Thank you,

Outstanding Outlier: “AG”

Agile Retrospectives – Making Good Teams Great (Pragmatic Programmers)

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