Five Ideas for Improving your Scrum Retrospectives

As retrospectives are one of the main improvement tools for Agile teams, it is a challenge to keep them efficient and they can also be the subjects of improvement. In this article, Pablo Pecora shares five ideas of techniques that could help a ScrumMaster to improve the next Scrum retrospectives.

Author: Pablo Pecora, Hexacta, http://www.hexacta.com/

Planning and executing an effective Scrum retrospective is much easier said than done. Here are some ways to make each of these meetings better than the previous one.

I have always said that retrospectives are the heart of Scrum and the Agile world. This is the instance where the team all get together and do a “self-inspection” on how they are working so far: what went well, what could be improved and –that is the good part– make a plan and a list of tasks for improving the next Sprint. In short, the retrospective is the space where the team can feel empowered, where they can criticize the process and celebrate their achievements, which is something that will always be good for team stamina and morale.

Five Ideas for Improving your Scrum Retrospectives

Being this important, there is also a negative part: The Scrum retrospective can become stagnant. When the team gets bored with this repetitive activity, when they see no changes in their past proposals, when they are shy, when they are not being asked the right questions, or when they lack any motivation, the process can become dull and lack the Agile Spirit that encourages improvement within teamwork.

So, what can be done about this? How can we avoid this situation if we all know how important retrospectives are for the accomplishment of the objectives? Thinking about this and being aware that this is a common situation in Agile software teams, we have selected 5 ways to make your next retrospective much better and more productive.

Heed this advice based on our experience, and ensure that software development is on track:

1. Break the ice

You should set the stage so every member of the team feels comfortable. It should be the team’s safe place. Here are some things that can help:

(a). In advance, send a retrospective reminder: With that, the team can evaluate previous thinking and come up with better ideas.
(b). Start with your ideas: Start speaking so that you can express the first thoughts that come to mind, and the rest of the team feels stimulated to follow.
(c). Start with a “One-word” exercise: Make a simple question to the team to set the stage. Some examples are,
* What kind of emotion did you get from the last Sprint? Let the team choose one: happiness, frustration, sadness, pride, etc.
* How are you feeling today? Rate it from 1 to 10.

2. Show results: Review previous goals & improvements

One of the keys of team motivation is to show the improvements made on previous retrospectives.

Some retrospectives can take lot of actions to improve while others may require lesser effort and smaller changes. What is important is to show any kind of result, even when it might not be possible to accomplish all the goals. Keep in mind that it is better not to try to do everything at the same time but to focus on at least getting a few great results.

I always try to start the Scrum retrospective talking about what we have done from the last meeting. The achievements analysis may come later as a result of the retrospective, but at least the team will know that their words, ideas, and complaints were not made in vain.

3. Get a different Scrum retrospective every time

This is key. Much has been written about how to do a useful and not routine Scrum retrospective, and there are a lot of tools and techniques to take information from. Here are some sites I have found very useful as an inspiration to make progress:
* http://www.funretrospectives.com/
* https://plans-for-retrospectives.com/
* http://retrospectivewiki.org/

We won’t get into detail about every technique, but we want to highlight three approaches of the “classic” twists that retrospectives can have and the ones where we have gotten good results:

Start-stop-continue meeting

The Start-stop-continue meeting allows to take a slightly different approach to make a Scrum retrospective simpler and more effective. It is good for generating new ideas. Ask the team what they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing.

The Speedboat Retro

As stated in the Luke Hohmann Innovation Games book and later changed and perfected by the Agile community, the Speedboat retrospective goes beyond the typical questions and help us to gain insight on things we could not otherwise get. Let’s look at these tips:
* Island/Vision: Set our goal for the mid/long-term on the project. This idea seems obvious but sometimes gets lost in everyday tasks.
* Wind/What helps the team: what helps it get better, faster, and more mature. These are the positive elements.
* Anchor/Things to improve: what is holding the team back, impediments, things that went wrong, or those that do not want to be repeated.
* The Rocks/Risks: things that should be analyzed as they might become issues in the future.

Oscars Academy Awards Retrospective

This is definitely an activity that completely changes the Scrum retrospective dynamic. In the Oscars Academy Awards retrospective, each team member nominates one User story and votes for the winner on the following categories:
* Best story
* Most annoying story
* Most technically complex story or Most exciting story

Once they have chosen, the team discusses in-depth about what has happened, why those user stories have won, and what the team can learn or improve on. This instantiation, and in particular, user stories will help the team to identify improvements and achievements and be specific regarding what has happened, for good or for bad. Also, it helps to produce ideas from personal experiences.

No matter what technique is used to vary the retrospective every time (there are several and most of them are useful), just use one in every meeting and surprise the team.

4. Work on a retrospective of the retrospectives

Get feedback on how the process is going and work accordingly. Some particular techniques I find highly useful are mentioned here:
* One-word question:
– What do you take from this retrospective: solutions to issues, nothing, improvements, new ideas, or loss of time.
– Happiness metric: each member rates the retrospective on a 1 to 5 scale.
– Make a drawing: each person makes a drawing and shares it with the team.
* Feedback door: When leaving, each member gives feedback in the exit door.

5. Rotate the retrospective facilitator

Nothing is strictly defined on the “Official Scrum” meaning regarding who should facilitate the meeting and be the responsible one for summarizing its content and sharing it with the team. The general and natural approach tends to be that the facilitator is the Scrum Master, but in my humble opinion, that is not always the best approach.

As a Scrum Master, I find it challenging to give the facilitator role to team members. It makes them think more and participate while they empower themselves as an important part of the project development. Every member can give the retrospective in their own style which streamlines and enriches every meeting. Eventually, each member will have different agendas and styles that could develop more (or less) information on certain subjects or emphasize some aspects that some other facilitators may not.

Conclusion

After being involved in several Agile projects, I have arrived at the conclusion that planning and executing retrospectives effectively is much easier said than done. This is just a short list of actions that could be taken into account when you are looking to improve your Scrum retrospective. There are myriads of other techniques that could eventually being used. Remember that there are always opportunities for improvements, even if the team is mature and the work progresses well. Do not become stagnant on your retrospectives, and try to dig deeper to get insights about how to change, progress, and get better!

About the author

Pablo Pecora is a software engineer for Hexacta. He has worked for more than 20 years in software development. He found Scrum 10 years ago and later become its evangelist. As a manager and a Scrum coach, he constantly seeks to incorporate agile into the teams and software culture as a key value for improvement. This article was originally published on http://www.hexacta.com/2017/09/25/5-ideas-to-improve-your-next-scrum-retrospective/ and is reproduced with permission from Hexacta.