How to make sprint retrospective meetings more effective

What is a sprint retrospective?
A sprint retrospective, typically the last step involved in Scrum methodology, is a meeting scheduled at the end of a sprint. The team, including the Scrum master and product owner, reviews what went well during the sprint and what could be improved in an effort to continuously analyze and optimize the process.

You spend a lot of time in meetings. On average, anywhere from 23% to 37% of your time is spent in meetings. If you are a Scrum master or in middle management, it’s possible that you spend up to 50% of your time attending meetings.

If you’re going to spend a large chunk of your time in meetings, you should always make sure that the meetings you plan—especially one as important as a sprint retrospective—are productive and efficient. In fact, a good sprint retrospective idea may be to discuss how many meetings the team attends, how long meetings should last, how productive those meetings are, and how you can make meetings more productive.

This article includes some fun ideas that you can easily incorporate to run your sprint retrospective meeting more effectively and efficiently.

What is covered in a sprint retrospective?
Simply put, the Scrum retrospective meeting lets you analyze your process in the previous sprint and create a plan for improvements in the next. So what do you discuss in a sprint retrospective? Really anything that affects how the team creates the product is open to scrutiny and discussion, including processes, practices, meetings, environment, and so on.

The meeting is meant to give the Scrum team the opportunity to ask and address questions such as:

What did we do right in the previous sprint?
What did we do wrong in the previous sprint?
What should we start doing in the next sprint?
What should we stop doing in the next sprint?
What can we do to improve productivity?
When is a sprint retrospective meeting held?
Your sprint retrospective meeting should be held after your sprint review and before the next sprint planning session. Sandwiching the retrospective between the two, you and your team can most effectively discuss what worked in your previous sprint, as well as what can be improved, while your previous sprint is fresh in your mind. You can also discuss what commitments your team can make to ensure the next sprint is successful, based on data and observations from your previous sprint.

Who should attend sprint retrospective meetings?
All members of the Scrum team—Scrum master, product owner, and developers—should attend the retrospective meeting. The meeting should provide an environment where the team members feel safe to share honest feedback on what’s going well and what could be improved and to participate in a discussion of what needs to change with clearly defined action items.

How long should a sprint retrospective take?
The length of your sprint retrospective meeting may vary slightly based on the length of your sprint and the retrospective technique you employ. Sprints lasting a month usually require no more than a three-hour sprint retrospective. Shorter sprints will likely require less time to dissect (and as we’ll mention below, we recommend keeping the meeting as short as you can). Scrum masters should allow for ample time to discuss and collaborate between team members while also making sure that the meeting remains productive.

Sprint review vs. sprint retrospective
While the purpose of the sprint retrospective is to help teams reflect on the previous sprint in order to improve processes, the sprint review’s purpose is a little different. The sprint review is a two-part meeting in which the Scrum master, the development team, the product owner, and other stakeholders present their progress to the customer. The team’s progress is carefully measured against the commitments made at the beginning of the sprint, and the customer is given a chance to offer input on the progress made.

How to run a sprint retrospective effectively
Studies show that a major complaint of the Agile methodology is the perception that there are too many meetings. Of course, for some people, one meeting per week is too many. What can you do to keep the team from thinking that a sprint retrospective is more than just another meeting?

Keep it simple

You are not going to solve all your problems in one meeting, so don’t try to. Instead, boil the discussion down to the few questions we listed earlier:

What do we need to stop doing?
What do we need to start doing?
What do we need to continue doing?
The idea is to engage your team by encouraging them to quickly identify where improvements can be made and what actions can be taken to make those improvements. For example, maybe your team has the problem of going over the 15 minutes scheduled for the daily standup meetings—you can easily fix this by making sure your meetings always start and end on time.

Whatever you discuss in a sprint retrospective, make sure you are inviting participation, documenting suggestions, and voting to determine which actions to take.

Keep it short

Meetings take time, and time means money. According to a 2014 report, over $25 million is wasted per day on meetings—$37 billion per year. In addition, it can take up to 20 minutes for employees to focus on their work again after an interruption such as a meeting or incoming email. Keeping your meetings short and to the point can go a long way to keeping costs down and productivity up.

You’ve scheduled your sprint retrospective for one hour (or three), but does that mean that you have to use the whole hour? It’s okay to end meetings early.

Stay focused

Your retrospective meeting should not be a social gathering. Stick to your agenda to stay focused. Create a retrospective meeting agenda that can help members of your team who seem to spend more time on unrelated tangents than on topic.

Change things up a bit

Meetings can be really boring, and bored team members are less likely to participate. In fact, bored employees are more likely to read email, work on other projects, or fall asleep. Regularly scheduled meetings, such as a retrospective, can become repetitive. If you see eyes glazing over and you keep getting the same answers to the same questions, you need to change things up a bit to get team members involved.

You can also try to add games or other fun activities to liven up the room and get your team more excited about participating in another retrospective meeting. See the examples below.

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