The Scrum methodology has long become an industry-standard in the world of software development. Moreover, the approach made its way into other fields, including education, automotive, management and consulting services, and many others. Albeit an efficient approach, it requires an organization-wide shift and dedication. One element of the methodology is a sprint, a short project phase that is adopted across IT teams.
But how does one assess the results of a sprint? To use business analysis services and gain valuable insights into the project, you need to gather concrete information. A sprint retrospective is a crucial part of a sprint that allows time to reflect, have an open discussion, exchange ideas, and brainstorm solutions. Organizing a sprint retro can be challenging for a new team and could halt your progress and defeat the entire purpose of Agile. In this article, we will cover the benefits and challenges of Scrum retrospectives and explore a guide to a fruitful and effective retro meeting.
Sprints are small phases of software development projects using the Scrum methodology. Each sprint involves a set of tasks unified by a certain objective. Usually lasting from two weeks to a month, sprints divide a months-long project into more manageable and attainable steps. But what is a sprint retrospective? It’s a process of reflection that allows a dedicated development team to evaluate how successful the last sprint has been. The main goal is to identify what needs improvement and make the corresponding changes in future iterations.
Retrospective meetings can be part of any project, even outside of the Scrum practices. Basically, these encourage team members to objectively assess their performances and prepare better for the next set of tasks.
Organized and jump-started by a Scrum master, a sprint retro is commonly attended by everyone who is actively working on the project. But first things first—is Scrum Master a project manager? While Scrum Master enforces Scrum principles, project manager responsibilities include the supervision of the project’s tasks, timelines, deadlines, etc. Scrum Masters require leadership, empathy, and creativity to be successful at the job. Qualities of a project manager include time management, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Hosted by the Scrum Master, a sprint retro meeting is attended by developers, testers, business analysts, project managers, and the product owner. Stakeholders and executives who aren’t directly involved usually do not participate in these meetings. These restrictions alleviate the tension and create a more relaxed and friendly space for brainstorming and ideation.
The core of the Scrum framework lies in continuous and gradual improvement. Based on this paradigm, each sprint acts as a learning ground for the following cycle. Retro meetings facilitate the space and platform for team members to reflect on their mistakes and derive useful insights. What exactly can a team learn from a sprint retrospective process?
Companies use sprint retro meetings to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and support active contributors. Discussing the milestones motivates employees to work harder and achieve new heights. Such events also offer a safe space to exchange ideas and share feedback thus building a software development team that’s ready to collaborate and lift each other up.
Another crucial benefit of organizing retro meetings is discovering and brainstorming potential areas for growth. To achieve the desired KPI in project management, coding, and testing, it’s imperative to create an open and safe space for discussion. The goal is to facilitate a comfortable atmosphere where team members can candidly share their opinions. For example, your team identifies a large backlog that grows after each sprint. A viable solution would be changing the estimation of how long each task takes to complete.
The end of the current sprint means the beginning of the new one and it requires a new plan of action. During the Scrum retrospective meeting, you identify opportunities for improvement and create concrete steps to achieving them. Preparing a detailed plan and assigning people to each task ensures that the team is accountable for implementing the improvements.
Each retrospective meeting comprises three main stages, namely preparation, the meeting itself, and the conclusion. At every step, different obstacles might occur that decrease the chances of a successful and fruitful collaboration. Our Agile experts at NIX apply Scrum practices for software development projects and want to share their findings. Having handled numerous projects across industries, we can confidently pinpoint the main issues most teams run into when organizing and hosting sprint retrospectives.
In short, the main outline of a Scrum retro is the following: what went right, what went wrong, and what needs improvement. There are numerous techniques that help team members open up about their concerns, carefully hear each other, and respectfully exchange ideas. Our experienced project managers and Scrum Master at NIX have prepared a list of proven activities for retro meetings that help teams discuss sprints in the most efficient manner. From simple icebreakers to complex analyses of each task using visual experiments, we believe that our expertise will aid you in hosting effective retrospectives from day one. In this part, we will cover a few Scrum retrospective examples, but you are welcome to explore other techniques.
For teams that are new to the Agile concept, NIX professionals recommend starting with simpler retro formats that can be easily executed without much preparation.
One Word: This type of organization is ideal for the very first Scrum retrospective. Oftentimes, team members hesitate to speak up which leads to unproductive meetings. The One Word format requires each participant to describe the sprint using a single word. This simple task encourages people to reflect on the project and acts as a great conversation starter. After the One Word round, everyone is welcome to expand on their opinions and share their thoughts.
DAKI (Drop, Add, Keep, Improve): This Scrum retrospective example requires minimal preparation from the meeting moderator, namely creating a table with the aforementioned four columns. During the brainstorming session, participants list which elements they would like to eliminate from the project, which should be kept or improved, as well as what can be added. Quite a simple icebreaker, this technique is easy to set up and can create valuable insights.
3 Ls (Liked, Learned, Lacked): If you notice that the team tends to default to the negative, consider the 3 Ls approach. The main advantage of this method is the lack of negativity which is replaced by the Learned column. Instead of listing their dislikes, the team needs to rephrase their concerns into the positive. This format can also be useful after a taxing and lengthy sprint that is likely to spark up emotionally charged conversations.
Speed Car: Among more creative sprint retro examples, this approach imagines the sprint as a speed car and breaks it down into three core elements: engine, brakes, and pit crew. The engine comprises everything that accelerates the vehicle and drives it forward. The brakes describe the obstacles that slow the team down and prevent it from succeeding. Finally, the pit crew is the supporting team that made the difference in the sprint.
Seasoned teams that are familiar with Scrum methods and retrospective meetings can upgrade to more sophisticated and complex formats. Consider these strategies if you are working with a tight-knit team that has a good rapport.
4 Ls (Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed): An extended version of the 3 Ls approach with an addition of the fourth column called Longed. In the extra column, participants describe what they wish would happen in the following sprints. This requires an in-depth understanding of the project and software development life cycle as a whole and is suitable for teams with previous experience.
Sailboat: A perfect format for visual learners, the Sailboat technique resembles the Speed Car approach but with more thorough detailing. It’s highly recommended to draw a boat and assign the wind to the drivers and anchor to the restraints. Furthermore, add the sun to describe emotions and the reef to identify potential threats. The main goal of the exercise is for the crew to find solutions to reach the island on the boat.
KALM (Keep, Less, More, Add): Another positive-centric approach, the KALM technique also encompasses four columns. The Keep column indicates the tasks that the team does well which should be acknowledged. The Less column showcases the activities that the team does but prefers not to. Whether they find the tasks pointless, boring, or mundane, this list will help identify what holds the team back. The next column is More and it provides the actions that the team already does but wishes to do more of. These could be various project elements that participants see significant value in and would like to expand. Finally, the Add column describes new ideas that should be included in the next steps.
Stop, Start, and Continue: This Scrum retrospective example is suitable whenever your team runs into a challenge that they cannot solve. Centered around actionable items that can be implemented, this technique consists of three elements: stop, start, and continue. Stop describes what the team should stop doing to avoid the current issue. This step is followed by Start which elaborates on what the participants should start doing to avoid this problem in the future. Finally, the Continue column is devoted to the tasks that the team should continue doing to achieve great results.
Three Little Pigs: One of the most optimal sprint retrospective examples for risk assessment, this fun exercise allows the team to break down their threats and opportunities. The Three Little Pigs story describes three houses: one made from straw, another from wood, and the most resilient consists of brick. The straw house represents the biggest issues that could occur throughout the project duration. The wooden house includes minor problems that require some attention. The brick house indicates the most stable parts of the project that don’t need any change. This approach helps participants to visualize the main obstacles and create a list of actions to avoid or mitigate them.
WRAP (Wishes, Risks, Appreciations, and Puzzles): A more comprehensive approach, WRAP allows you to paint in big strokes and evaluate the sprint from several angles. Wishes represent everything that the team would like to improve based on the last sprint. Risks describe any issues that have occurred or might occur in future iterations. Appreciations include all actions that were pleasant for the team, including other team members, processes, technology, etc. Finally, Puzzles are concerns that participants express.
It’s recommended to try out different sprint retro examples to identify what works for your team and project. Don’t use the same technique each time as it might create fatigue, but also refrain from switching them too often as it can be confusing. Expert tip from the NIX team:
It’s recommended to try out different sprint retro examples to identify what works for your team and project. Don’t use the same technique each time as it might create fatigue, but also refrain from switching them too often as it can be confusing.
Although there isn’t a single correct way to run a sprint retro, using templates helps beginners have a general overview. Our extensive portfolio enables us to draw inspiration from the most successful cases. Our NIX team applies the following template to its retro meetings which helps us establish a flow conducive to respectful and productive conversations about the previous sprint. Let’s explore the steps of such a meeting to increase your chances for a successful discussion.
At the beginning of the meeting, consider addressing the participants with the main objectives of the retro. For example, your goal is to collect constructive feedback and come up with actionable items to improve the next iteration.
After establishing goals, devote a few minutes to a fun icebreaker to get people to talk and interact with each other. They can be silly, creative, or weird, but they should incentivize the team to partake in the upcoming discussions. For instance, encourage the attendees to draw an animal that represents their role in the team.
In case you’ve had at least one Scrum retrospective before, take time to evaluate how well the team has worked on the action items. If you identify some tasks that haven’t been accomplished, include them in the later discussions. Without checking the results of each sprint retro you are bound to continue making the same mistakes.
This is the central part of the meeting where you apply various Scrum retrospective examples to collect feedback. The goal is to identify what the team likes and dislikes and what they would like to improve. To allow the team members some time to prepare and reflect on the project, you can share some basic questions in advance.
Now that you’ve gathered various opinions and concerns, you can begin the brainstorming process. Using suitable sprint retrospective examples, create a list of action items. These describe concrete steps with clear assignees, instruments, and deadlines. If the list of items is too bulky and overwhelming, you can prioritize them and begin with the most urgent concerns. The rest can be dealt with in the following sprints.
The final step is concluding the meeting which includes a brief retro summary and the rundown of the chosen action items. This allows the team to align and make sure everyone is on the same page going forward.
Instead of waiting until the project is over to ponder what went south, Scrum teams include this step into their routine. Agile is about creating a culture aimed at improving business processes one small step at a time. Sprint retrospectives promote a culture of continuous improvement, enhance collaboration, address issues proactively, align work with business objectives, and boost employee engagement—all of which contribute to improved business outcomes and project success.
Sprint retrospectives enable teams to continuously assess and improve their work processes. This leads to higher-quality deliverables as issues are identified and addressed promptly, resulting in fewer defects and rework.
The retrospective process promotes open communication between the team and business. Regular feedback and adjustments ensure that the project stays on track and aligns with the business’s evolving needs and goals.
Sprint retrospectives allow for flexibility and adaptability in response to changing project requirements. The team can quickly pivot to address new priorities or challenges, ensuring that the project remains aligned with the business’s strategic objectives.
Identifying and mitigating risks through retrospectives is crucial for project success. Team members can proactively address potential issues, reducing the likelihood of costly delays or failures.
By involving the team in sprint retrospectives, the business fosters a collaborative partnership. This collaborative approach can lead to a deeper understanding of the project’s objectives and better overall outcomes.
Although sprint retrospectives follow similar guidelines, they can largely differ depending on the project’s specificity, complexity, urgency, duration, and more. Always consider the goal of the meeting and set the corresponding priorities. If you feel the need for additional support, get in touch with NIX. We are software development professionals with numerous successful projects and decades of experience. Having worked with the Agile methodology for years, we understand how to set up the processes in the most efficient way. Contact our team to share your project and adopt Scrum to achieve your goals.
Yuriy applies an extensive 10 years of expertise in business analysis to enable tangible changes within organizations by identifying needs and coming up with relevant solutions, which deliver value to stakeholders and help to achieve ultimate business goals.
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