If you've spent any time in product development it's likely you've participated in a sprint retrospective. When done well these agile meetings can be a great way for your team to weigh in on the previous sprint by discussing the work that was done and issues that were encountered.
By creating a safe space, retrospectives allow team members to candidly discuss both areas of the project that are going well and areas that need improvement, including positive and detrimental habits that the team may have developed over the course of the project.
A great retrospective should generate ideas for improvement in the next sprint, and for your teams process as a whole. By opening up the lines of communication, retrospectives should not only allow the team to identify and discuss areas of difficulty within the project, they should also foster discussion of what is going well. Ideally these discussions will allow the team to create solutions in the form of actionable items, enabling them reproduce what went well in future sprints, and prevent what went badly from reoccurring in the future.
Unfortunately, in our experience we've learned that not all retrospectives are as effective as they could be. When run poorly, retrospectives can devolve into finger pointing and complaining, be dominated by a single individual, or simply not elicit enough active participation to be productive.
We've found that the following tips help us keep our retrospectives productive and manageable.
1. Run retros often
Ideally you should be running a retro at the end of every sprint. By allowing the team to identify problems and make small improvements regularly, you avoid a small problem turning into a huge and seemingly unmanageable one with no simple solution.
2. Schedule enough time
Depending on the size of your team, schedule at least 60-90 minutes for your retros. It's vital to allow enough your team enough time to get to the core of the issues they may be having, generate insights and create actionable items for moving forward.
3. Create action items
To keep your retros from existing solely as complaint sessions, it’s important to use an action focused approach to your meetings. By creating an explicit approach to solving each of the problems surfaced during the meeting you help your team learn from their experience, preventing them from running into the same difficulties in the future.
4. Keep your retros interesting
While having a well-structured agenda is essential for an effective retrospective, utilizing the same agenda for every meeting can result in them becoming too routine. When this happens it's common for participants to merely go through the motions, resulting in a sparcity of good feedback and input.
To keep your retrospectives fresh we recommend rotating your agendas on a regular basis. Try one these agile sprint retrospective ideas at your next meeting!
Learned, Lacked, Loved
- Divide a whiteboard into three sections: Learned, Lacked, Loved.
- Hand out Sticky notes and allow the team 10 minutes to write down the things they liked, learned and felt they lacked during the period of time the retro is covering.
- One by one, each member of the team should then place their sticky notes in the appropriate category, reading them aloud to the team as they do so. They should feel free to give a small amount of context, but overall this step should go fairly quickly. The facilitator should then take a few minutes to group sticky notes that address the same topic.
- The entire team is given an opportunity to go up to the white board and vote on 3 topics they would like to discuss at length with the group. Their votes can be represented by marks on the white board or dot stickers.
- The group will then discuss the topics with the most votes, allowing 12-15 minutes of discussion per topic.
The topics should be discussed with the goal of either identifying what went well and how to help the team reproduce that in the future or identifying what went wrong and creating actionable steps to prevent it from happening again in the future.
The Hot Air Balloon
- On a whiteboard, draw a picture of a hot air balloon with sandbags, a sun and a storm cloud.
- Begin by asking participants to look back on the current sprint and identify sandbags that slowed the team down and the hot air that helped to push the team higher. Allow them 10 minutes to write down their thoughts and place them on the appropriate section of the hot air balloon.
- The facilitator should then group similar topics and the team should vote on the three topics they think are most important to discuss. The topics with the most votes should be discussed for 12-15 minutes each. Actionable items should be extracted from each topic.
- Next, ask the participants to use their sticky notes to identify the “stormy” areas of the project that will cause turbulence in the future and the “sunny” areas of the project that will help the team become more efficient and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. The stickies should be placed on the appropriate areas of the white board.
- Again, the items should be grouped and discussed. The team should then vote on the areas they would like to discuss and the topics with the most votes should be discussed for 12-15 minutes each. Actionable items should be extracted from each topic.
Pleasure and Gain
- Draw the pleasure and gain graph on the whiteboard.
- Instruct participants to write, on individual sticky notes, each of the activities they perform in relation to the project.
- Allow each participant to place their sticky notes on the appropriate area of the graph.
- Discuss each of the quadrants in the following context.
Pleasure-gain: These are activities that should be continued.
Pain-Gain: Because these activities are beneficial,discuss ways in which they can become more pleasurable.
Pleasure-Loss: Discuss how you can make this a gain for your team. If it's not possible to do so, this is something that should stop being done.
Loss-Pain: These are activities that aren’t benefiting anyone and should be stopped.
We hope these agile retrospective ideas help your next retro become as engaging and effective as possible! If you have any questions, or want to share your retrospective secrets, feel free to drop us a line!