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Everything You Need to Know About Sprint Retrospective

Agile organizations are flourishing not only in the software manufacturing industry but also in several others such as aerospace, banking, and finance, architecture and construction, government sectors, etc. In such scenarios, the marketplace is filled with opportunities for individuals who know Agile Methodology and its various other frameworks. One such important framework of Agile is the Scrum Framework. The Scrum Framework is one of the most implemented frameworks among Agile organizations as it has many benefits associated with it and also it overcomes most of the shortcomings that the traditional product development methodologies had in them. Hence, when a professional gains more knowledge about the skills and practices in Scrum, they have better opportunities in the market best suited for their abilities. 

Let us first understand what Scrum is, and later discuss the Sprint Retrospective meetings so that the concepts of the meeting are clear. Scrum is a framework of Agile which is lightweight and helps the people, teams, and organizations to create complex products through creativity, productivity, and by applying adaptive solutions. Scrum requires an environment where a Product Owner orders the tasks for a complex problem into a checklist called the Product Backlog. The Scrum Development Team breaks down the work into smaller units called Product Increments and work in a time-boxed period called Sprints where they try to deliver the value of the product. The ScrumMaster empowers the Scrum Team and facilitates various meetings called Scrum Events to smoothly run the development process. At the end of the Sprint, the Scrum Team and its Stakeholders evaluate the results of the Sprint and adjust for the next Sprint. This cycle repeats till the product development is completed. Now as we have understood how the product development process takes place in Scrum, let us understand an important Scrum Event called the Sprint Retrospective which plays a major role in the development process. 

What is a Sprint Retrospective?

The Sprint Retrospective meeting is one of the four Scrum Events facilitated by the ScrumMaster where the Development Team, the Product Owner, and other Stakeholders discuss the scope of improvement in the product development process. This meeting takes place after the Sprint Review meeting and before the next Sprint Planning meeting. Many organizations may skip these meetings, however, it is considered to be a crucial gathering that improves the potential of the Scrum Team and gives room for improvement in the next Sprint. The duration of the Sprint Retrospective should be at most three-hour for a one-month Sprint. During this session, the team members find ways to identify the potential pitfalls in the product, and also reflect upon past mistakes. The main objective of the meeting is to learn from those mistakes and avoid them in the next upcoming Sprints. 

Who attends the Sprint Retrospective Meetings?

This meeting is open to all the members of the organization and is usually attended by the ScrumMaster, the Development Team members, the Product Owner. All the members of the team need to be present at the meeting as it is more of a learning lesson for everyone as they get to learn about individuals and interactions. The ScrumMaster may not intervene much, and only facilitate the meeting, but if the purpose of the meeting is not going as planned and the team seems to be distracted, the ScrumMaster should make sure that everyone is on track. Also the ScrumMaster acts as a peer team member and may suggest areas of improvement if needed. The ScrumMaster should also see that the time allotted for the meeting does not exceed, and at the end of the Sprint Retrospective, everyone should have learned something that would make the next Sprint better. 

What is the purpose of Sprint Retrospective Meetings?

The ultimate purpose of the Sprint Retrospective meetings is to devise a plan that would enhance the effectiveness and the quality of the Product Increment that would be developed in the next coming Sprint sessions. The Sprint Retrospective meetings are a type of meeting where the team finds out the activities and the things that worked out the best in the previous Sprint and whether they should be further continued in the next Sprint. Also, the team finds out more interesting features that could add more value to the product and decide whether it should be included in the next Sprint. The Scrum principles of inspecting and adapting plays a vital role in the Sprint Retrospective meetings and helps the team make every successive Sprint more interesting, productive, creative, and enjoyable for the entire Scrum Team. 

What are the events that occur in the Sprint Retrospective meeting?

 These are the following events that take place in the Sprint Retrospective meetings:

  • The Scrum Team evaluates the progress of the team based on the Product Increment delivered in the last Sprint. The evaluation is based on the criteria such as individuals, processes, interactions, tools, and finally the definition of done of each Product Increment. 
  • The elements that are inspected may vary based on their domain and the origin of the elements are also explored. 
  • The team discusses the impediments that they came across during the process, and also discusses the measures they used to handle those problems, and also make a note of the problems that could not be resolved in the previous Sprint.
  • The team also recognizes the most effective changes that would increase their productivity, and the idea that has the most impact is implemented immediately so that the results are seen as soon as possible.
  • Hence, the Sprint Retrospective concludes the Sprint; it is a time-boxed meeting for at most three hours for a month Sprint and shorter for shorter ones. 

How to run a Sprint Retrospective?

Running Sprint Retrospective meetings may differ from one organization to another. However, most of the events that happen in the meeting remain the same. Hence, many companies follow the five-step cycle of Sprint Retrospective to run an effective Sprint Retrospective. They are:

Step 1: Setting the stage

Before the Sprint Retrospective meeting is conducted, the facilitator needs to set the stage for the meeting. This means that a particular goal has to be set for the meeting so that the meeting has a particular direction and does not go off-road. This step also requires the facilitator to give time to people to “arrive” at the meeting and get in the right mood. Informing about the meeting beforehand so that the members can make themselves available is one of the best ways to start any kind of meeting. 

Step 2: Gathering the data

When the meeting begins, it is always helpful about why they are here and what are the goals of the meeting. Also, the facilitator has to help everyone remember the last Sprint that everyone has worked on so that there is less confusion during the Sprint Retrospective meeting. Creating a shared pool of information about the Sprint is one the best ways to go about step two of the Sprint Retrospective. As everyone views the Sprint differently and has a different perspective, it is important to align everyone’s point of view to one subject so that everyone understands what is going on in the meeting. 

Step 3: Insight Generation

In this step, as everyone has understood what they had done in the last Sprint, we reflect on what things happen the way they did. As in, finding out the reason for the success or failure of a particular task in the previous Sprint. By identifying different patterns that take place that either build to success or failure, we can employ those patterns in the next Sprint for an effective Product Increment development. Hence, this step is all about looking at the bigger picture by generating insights into all the things and activities that happened in the last Sprint. 

Step 4: Deciding the action

Now that everyone has reflected on the things that they have accomplished in the previous Sprint, and also addressed the problems and failures, the next step in the meeting is to pick the issues that have to be worked on so that the process of product development proceeds smoothly in the upcoming Sprints. Making a concrete plan of action about how you will address the issues should be the main focus of the Sprint Retrospective meeting. 

Step 5: Closing the Retrospective

Clarifying any doubts from the Development Team about the plan of action should be the closing event of the Sprint Retrospective. The facilitator should also remember to appreciate the efforts of the team members to maintain good morale and have a sense of positivity towards the end of the meeting. Also, at the end of the event, a clear summary of what has been discussed in the meeting and clearing about how the retrospectives can be improved should be listed so that the members can understand the whole meeting’s outcomings at the end clearly.

Here are some tips on running an effective Sprint Retrospective Meetings

1. Keeping it clear and simple

Keeping the Sprint Retrospective clear and simple is one of the most effective ways to conduct the Sprint Retrospective meetings. Just asking the team about what they would like to begin, stop, or to continue would make it easier for the facilitator to proceed with the meeting. For example, the team would want to begin with writing test cases while writing the user stories or they may want to test a new tool that has not become a habit yet for the team. Whatever the decisions the team makes, there should be mass participation and the suggestions by the team are recorded and the further process takes place based on these suggestions. 

2. Integration of originality

The Sprint Retrospectives can be conducted by integrating games and other tactics so that novelty and originality are created. Any game that the facilitator thinks would make the most sense to the team could be picked so that the retro is fun, effective, creative, and productive. The facilitator should make sure that the game is run once so that they are familiar with it and are prepared. One interesting game is called the LEGO retrospectives, where the team members use the LEGO blocks to create a structure that represents the last Sprint and also that which represents developed features that need to be added to the next Sprint to make it better. This creates creative and productive conversations among the team members and encourages novelty among the team members. 

3. Focusing is the Key

Always make sure that the group is focused on a specific topic and does not dwell between spending too much time on one discussion point and giving lesser time for each topic. Using different colored sticky markers and sticky notes and also keeping a member to document the outcomes would help the group to stay focused on the topic. 

4. Have an Action-Oriented Meeting

One of the most important tips for the facilitator is to assign actionable tasks for someone on the team. These tasks should not always be the responsibility of the Project Manager. The conversations should be constructive, and helpful between the team members so that the team improves. Implementing an action-oriented environment could be implemented by keeping a list that is visible for everyone to see, and make sure that deadlines and expectations are set. 

5. A fresh outside point of view could be an added advantage

Involving an Agile coach in the Sprint Retrospective would bring a fresh perspective to the meeting. As the experts would have more knowledge about the product and the processes, they could point out finer points in the conversation and help to deliver change for the team. The fresh and new perspective from outside could be a game-changer and would add more value to the meeting in the long run. It need not be an expert every time, the facilitator can also use the perspective of a member that is unrelated to the team as a neutral third-party. 

Conclusion 

Sprint Retrospectives are always those meetings where there are lessons to be learned by everyone in the Scrum Team. It should be conducted in a fun way where everyone can understand what had gone wrong in the last Sprint and also appreciate the features and tasks that were successful in the last Sprint. Making the Sprint Retrospective simple and clear is one of the best ways to run an effective Sprint Retrospective meeting. By following the steps of conducting the Sprint Retrospective and successfully following the tips for the Sprint Retrospective, a productive meeting could be held. This would ultimately benefit the Scrum Team and the organization as a whole, and would also simultaneously help the facilitator conduct better meetings and make it fun for the team members while attending them.

References

https://www.scrum.org/resources/what-is-a-sprint-retrospective.
https://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#scrum-definition
https://www.visual-paradigm.com/scrum/what-is-Sprint-retrospective-meeting/
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