The agile development process is a fast-paced, iterative work environment that involves short sprint cycles and frequent deliverables. 

But does it actually work? 

In order to discern whether a sprint was effective, it’s important to ask agile teams to reflect on their achievements on a recurring basis. In the spirit of continuous improvement, agile teams should aim to schedule recurring meetings—known as sprint retrospectives—to align with each other at the end of every sprint. 

Continue reading to learn more about why sprint retrospectives are important, how they can benefit your agile team, and the five actionable steps your team can take to run better retrospectives.

What Is A Sprint Retrospective?

A sprint retrospective is a meeting where an agile team intentionally evaluates the previous sprint cycle in order to improve the future development processes. A good way to think of a sprint retrospective is to consider it as an opportunity for reflection. 

As Derby and Larsen observe in their book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, improvising off of a basic pattern can help agile teams get the most out of their retrospective sessions, which in turn leads to better work. 

Sprint retrospectives can also help your team avoid some common pitfalls, such as operating in silos or misalignment on scrum processes and goals. It’s all about working together as a team to reinforce agile principles, improve practices, and surface any roadblocks on a regular basis. 

Five Steps To Improving Your Sprint Retrospective Meetings, Verified By A Scrum Master 

In an agile world, sprint retrospective meetings offer the unique opportunity to provide your team with as much up-front clarity as possible. Making sure that everyone receives the transparency that they need will set your agile team up for continuous success. 

As a former Scrum Master of many companies such as Bank of America, Fidelity, and NPR, Philip Rogers is an expert at coaching teams on improving their agile development processes. He facilitates retrospective sessions as an objective third party and helps to guide the discussion to be an open and honest conversation. Philip’s goal is to help agile teams work better together and increase productivity moving forward.

Here are five easy steps that Philip uses to follow the principles found in agile retrospectives in order to help improve agile team collaboration. 

Step 1: Set the Stage for Your Sprint Retrospective

An agile retrospective session is most effective when everyone on the team is honest about what went well, and also what didn’t. There are as many team dynamics as there are teams, so sometimes getting started may feel awkward if people are uncomfortable with opening up.

For Philip, this issue can easily be resolved with some fun warm-up exercises. His intent for these exercises is simply to get people talking, and hopefully to diffuse any existing tensions. For example, the activity may be as quick as a temperature gauge of the team with a literal drawing of four weather patterns (thunderstorm, rain, cloudy, and sunshine). 

Asking teams to affix post-it notes to the weather pattern they think describes how well the last sprint went is an interactive way to receive accurate and intentional feedback

However, warm-up exercises aren’t a necessity for every sprint retrospective. Introducing the meeting can be as simple as asking each team member to describe the last sprint iteration in 3 words of their own.  

No matter the structure of the introduction, the end goal is to get the team warmed up for more specific discussions.

Step 2: Ask Your Team To Gather Previous Sprint Data 

To fulfill this second step, it’s time to dig into some of the nitty-gritty details of the last sprint. The goal is to capture as much information as possible by focusing on the sprints or iterations that just ended.

One exercise that can be helpful for this is to draw a boat with a large motor, as well as a hefty anchor. Ask your agile team members to use post-it notes to write what they believe propelled the boat forward, and what kept it stuck in the last sprint.

Be sure to keep each idea on its own post-it note. The ideas should correspond with the drawing in order to visually conceptualize the successes and detractors. 

For hybrid and remote teams, Trello boards are a great way to digitize this activity and provide real-time collaboration for all team members. Agile teams can use this method to discuss how to minimize the ‘anchors’ from the previous sprint cycle, and how to further propel the boat forward for the upcoming iteration.

Step 3: Generating Insights From The Sprint Retrospective

The purpose of generating insights is to clarify processes, identify patterns, and bring attention to duplicates in the process. These insights often flow very organically following the discussions from the previous step, where pain points and successes are identified. 

For example, let’s say that three people on the team feel as if they would have benefitted from a more specific direction during the sprint.

Three agreements to the same insight is a significant data point in your findings, as opposed to just one person feeling that way. 

Discovering these commonalities will help to improve the agile development process for everyone for the next sprint and make sure that every team member feels valued and heard.

Step 4: Decide On The Next Steps For Your Agile Sprint 

the sprint retrospective, albeit the one most often overlooked.

From his extensive experience, Philip explains that a lot of teams have really great conversations, but fail to develop any action items in order to move forward with the process. He mentions that although it may be easier to have these conversations but not follow through, the lack of action causes the value of the sprint retrospective to diminish. 

During Philip’s sessions, he tries to get the teams to make a list of things to keep in mind during their next sprint in order to improve their current work. Instead of trying to engage in a complete overhaul of their processes, Philip believes that it’s better if teams move forward to the next iteration with just a few key focal points to focus on in order for them to work better together.

Step 5: Tying A Bow On The Sprint Retrospective

To summarize the sprint retrospective, Philip prefers to keep the tone light. After discussing each person’s takeaways, he finds that closing on a high note greatly benefits the team as a whole.

For example, a fun and interactive way to wrap up the retrospective is to take each action item discussed in Step 4 and ask the team to create entertaining posters inspired by those items. The team members can further collaborate with each other to pick an image, agree on a title, and then write a humorous description. 

Remote teams—we’ve got you covered! 

Trello is revolutionizing team collaboration by going beyond the board and making teamwork easier than ever. Use Trello’s dashboards, timelines, tables, and more to create visually appealing and engaging summaries for your retrospective. 

These are just a few lighthearted ways to encourage teamwork while hammering home the action items they are agreeing to pursue during the next sprint cycle.

Take Agile Action For Your Sprint Retrospectives

These five actionable steps will help your team master their ideal version of a sprint retrospective in no time. Keep in mind that sprint retrospectives are completely customizable! Encourage your team to try different sets of activities during the meetings, or dig deeper into follow-up tasks with a unique approach tailored to their personal needs. 

Don’t forget about those calendar settings! Agile sprints are designed to run for ideally two weeks at most. Following the completion of the sprint, scheduling another retrospective will be the key to ensuring continuous improvement for your team. 

For a more detailed breakdown of these steps, be sure to visit Philip’s Trello Board

Philip primarily uses this board to organize and share sprint retrospective approaches that have been proposed by him and by others. He also offers advice for agile teams that are new to retrospectives, and helps them determine the best ways to structure their agile development process.

5 easy steps to help your agile team run better sprint retrospectives