Sprint retrospective, or Retro, is one of the most effective elements in Scrum. It allows for constant improvement of both team member interaction and the entire product development process.

However, using this tool in practice, Scrum teams may face problems that make Retro unproductive and, as a result, block positive changes.

In this article, we describe the Sprint Retrospective process, talk about its main obstacles, and share tips on how to make Retro a source of continuous improvement in all Scrum team processes.


Sprint Retro in Scrum: Description, Participants, Process

In the Scrum Framework, Sprint Retrospective is the final event of the Scrum process.

The Retro’s goal is a detailed analysis of the past Sprint, identifying its strong and weak points, and determining specific actions to make the development process more effective.

The Retrospective participants are the Scrum Master and the development team.

In the classical approach, Sprint Retro contains the following stages:


Sprint Retrospective Stages

Why Sprint Retro Might Not Work

There is no doubt that Retro is a great tool to adjust the development process. So, why are many Scrum teams not constantly improving?

To find out, we analyzed the experiences of several dozen teams and identified 5 main factors that prevent Retro from being successful:

  1. The meeting atmosphere is not conducive to the exchange of ideas.
    Despite the fact that openness and a positive attitude are supposed to be the main Retro principles, in reality, this is not always true. When evaluating a Sprint, team members may be incorrect in feedback sharing, and a manager may put pressure on the team. Each of these factors is enough to block the participants’ initiative and make Retro useless.
  2. Retro is focused on the process, not the result.
    On the other hand, in trying to create a positive atmosphere, Scrum teams often get addicted to liberating games and forget about Retro objectives. The result is that the team leaves the meeting in a good mood, but without understanding what exactly needs to be done to improve processes.
  3. The team improves everything at once.
    Low team initiative is bad, but too much initiative can be even worse. Sometimes teams try to improve everything at once: they generate a plethora of ideas to implement in one Sprint. This approach leads to weak performance and makes the team feel disappointed by the lack of results.
  4. Retro is dominated by one person.
    Retro works if all participants are equally involved in it. If one person takes the lead without taking much of an interest in others’ opinions, then one can hardly expect good results.
  5. Most of the ideas are not being implemented.
    Often the team’s ideas remain just ideas. Not seeing the implementations of their initiatives, the team stops proposing them.

Each of the listed factors is powerful enough to negatively affect the Sprint Retro or even block further team initiatives.

The main goal here is to eliminate these obstacles and make Sprint Retro a reliable tool for continuous process improvement.


How to Improve Sprint Retro

At Techstack, Scrum Masters are responsible for conducting Scrum processes.

They coordinate the Sprint Retro, remove obstacles, and make sure the team is constantly working to improve their performance.

Here are some tips from our Scrum experts on how to make Retro effective.


Create an Atmosphere

The starting point for any positive change is team initiative.

Create the conditions where people will not only feel comfortable exchanging ideas but also suggestions for changes:

  1. Create a space that is comfortable for everyone.
    It is extremely important to have a trusting atmosphere where each team member feels the safety and support of the group. To provide this, discuss and establish meeting rules that will suit everyone.
    For example, you can agree not to get personal, to let everyone speak, to voice any and all ideas, not to criticize colleagues' initiatives, etc.
  2. Use icebreakers.
    People come to a meeting immersed in their work. Use icebreakers to help them transition to a new task, and get them ready to generate ideas.
    Feel free to experiment and find activities that work for your team.
  3. Try different meeting formats.
    From time to time, familiar retrospective formats fail, so it is important to try different approaches to your meetings.
    If formal Retro doesn’t inspire the team anymore, replace it with gamification. And vice versa, if the game formats tire people, try to conduct Retro as a free communication where the Scrum Master transcribes the discussion.

Keep the main goal in mind

Retro’s main objective is to define a list of specific actions that will improve the development process and increase team productivity. By using techniques to vary the atmosphere and play brainstorming games, you can be sure this approach will bring the right results.

The Starfish technique helps both to determine the list of initiatives and to keep the game format in Retro.

The participants draws a five armed Starfish where each arm is action what the team should:

  • stop doing;
  • do less;
  • keep doing;
  • do more;
  • start doing.

The Starfish technique

After analyzing the Sprint, Retro's participants mark 1-3 points at each of the Starfish’s arms.

The activity results in 5 lists with specific actions to improve development and team processes.


Prioritize Ideas

When you have a list of actions, you will probably be eager to start doing them immediately.

Still, trying to improve everything at once might lead to the complete failure of all initiatives.

To avoid this, work with your team to prioritize ideas, and then start implementing the most important ones.


Techstack case

All our Scrum teams are actively involved in Sprint Retro. To ensure effective implementation of all ideas, we follow these steps:


1. Collection of initiatives. After analyzing the past Sprint, the Scrum team generates ideas to improve processes and increase work productivity. A Scrum Master collects all ideas into a list of initiatives.


2. Prioritizing ideas. By voting, the team together prioritizes each initiative from 1 to 5 where 1 is the highest priority and 5 is the lowest priority.


3. Determining next steps. The team works with a list of the highest priority initiatives and determines which of them will be implemented in the next Sprint.


4. Identification of promising actions. Initiatives with less priority are included in the list of promising actions. Their implementation is discussed at the next Scrum Retro.


This approach allows us to ensure continuous process improvement and keep the team proactive.


Share Responsibility

Having a list of initiatives, share responsibility for its implementation with the team.

To do this, assign one person to be responsible for each initiative and specify the time frame in which you can expect results.

If necessary, discuss the next steps to implement these initiatives.

Follow the rule “1 initiative, 1 person” to be sure that all the necessary actions will be performed efficiently and on time.


Show the Results

To keep the team involved in the improvement process, share the results of their actions.

Start your next Sprint Retro with the good news - tell how the team's previous ideas have improved interactions between departments, helped clear obstacles, or made things faster.

Realizing that Retro really works, the team will come up with more new ideas.


Outcome

Scrum Retrospective contains a great toolkit for analyzing teamwork results.

However, they only take effect when used wisely.

Based on specific goals and adaptation to your team’s needs, choose the most appropriate tools to make your Scrum team a source of continuous work improvement.