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6 Tips For a Better Scrum Retrospective

6 tips for better retrospectives

Anthony Mersino

Wed Nov 22 2023

10:54 AM

I recently hosted a client workshop on how to improve the retrospective event in the Scrum Framework. Rather than focus on specific techniques (like I did in this related post), I focused on overall planning and preparation in advance of the retrospective.
I summarized my retrospective recommendations down to the following 6 tips. The first tip is the most important of those tips.

Tip #1 – Plan the Retrospective Ahead

1- plan ahead
Something that I always found helpful was to layout a plan for the retrospective. This included how I was going to move through the stages of the retrospective, how I would use my time, and the specific exercises I would use at each step.
Without a plan, you tend to wing it. I’ve seen Scrum Masters show up for a retrospective at the last minute and just dive in. They didn’t have a plan and they wound up not having any discussions or action items.
Planning is even more important when you have remote participants.

Tip #2 – Get People Engaged Early

2 -get people engaged early
Ever facilitate a Scrum retrospective where only a few people speak? Or no one speaks? It is important to get all the retrospective participants involved right away. Otherwise, they just sit back and let you or others drive the process.
One of my favorite ways of getting people involved in the retrospective early is to read Norm Kerth’s Prime Directive, and then go around and ask everyone if they agree. Read more about that approach in this related post, one easy way to improve your Retrospective.
Another simple way is to just ask everyone to answer a simple question. “What one feeling word describes how you feel coming in to this retrospective?” is an expression I use frequently.

Tip #3 – Create a Space

3- create a space
One thing that I have noticed is that some Scrum masters and facilitators don’t take the time to create a space for the retrospective that is conducive to discussion and engagement. They use a big room, a cramped room, or a room with a big long table.
Where possible, move chairs into a circle or semi-circle. Gather around a whiteboard. Figure out how you will incorporate remote participants.
If you are working with distributed team members, creating a space looks a little different. For distributed teams, make sure everyone is looking at the same place, can hear each other, has a webcam, etc.

Tip #4 – Track your Action Items

4 - track your action items
Many teams walk out of the retrospective and immediately forget about it, which is a huge waste. A better approach is to walk out with 1 or 2 specific actions that the team agrees to pursue.
Some teams simply add the actions from each retro to a growing list of items that no one does anything about or even sees. If you really want to avoid taking action on retros, bury those items into SharePoint.
One of the better approaches I’ve seen for tracking action items is to post the action items visibly in the team space. I’ve posted them on the physical task board. Another technique I saw another coach use was to post the improvement items as two sticky notes on a single 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper labeled “Kaizen”. In either case, walk out with specific actions and post them somewhere prominent.

Tip #5 – Start with the Previous Retrospective Action Items

5- start with previous actions
Related to the previous item, each retrospective should start with a review of the action items from the previous retrospective. These should be treated like scientific experiments. What did we try? What results did we get? Should we keep doing it?

Tip 6 – Have Fun

6 - have fun
Fun is essential! Retrospectives don’t need to be one more thing for the team to do on a day potentially full of Scrum meetings. If you create a fun environment you will be more likely to get valuable fruit out of the exercise.
Those are my 6 tips – you can get those tips from our elegant download here:  Retrospective Tip Sheet.
I’d love to get your feedback!

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