Follow this guide to get the most out of your Agile retrospectives — a key element of the Scrum framework
When the sprint is over, the work isn’t done.
A sprint retrospective (or ‘retro’) is a meeting held at the end of each sprint to reflect on what went well, what needs to improve, and what ideas may have potential.
For this reason, it’s essential to have an established framework for gathering and recording ideas, as well as a culture based on psychological safety, to ensure that your team feels comfortable giving honest feedback.
6 steps for running a successful sprint retrospective
1. Pick a visual online collaboration platform
The first step in running a sprint retro is establishing a visual means to conduct the meeting. Traditionally, sprint retrospectives often involved using a physical whiteboard and sticky notes — now, with increasingly hybrid and remote working environments, it’s not always possible to be in the same room.
And, there are many advantages to going digital.
With a shared digital collaboration space like MURAL, you can quickly capture ideas with sticky notes, organize them however you like in an infinite canvas, and add tags for filtering and next steps. When the meeting is over, your team (and organization) has a record of the meeting that is interactive and valuable, rather than a photo someone may have snapped.
Another advantage of virtual collaboration is that it makes it easier to avoid groupthink. Features like Private Mode, where teammates are unable to see the content of the sticky notes you add until after the facilitator (in this case the Scrum master) returns to a standard view, make it so that a diverse array of ideas is more likely to surface. Without this, people can often be influenced by other contributors.
Also, the ability to conduct anonymous voting sessions increases the likelihood of honest feedback, since it removes any desire to conform, and allays any fears of judgment.
To run your meeting, you’ll need to have all the stakeholders present, whether in person or virtually, in order to get a holistic picture of what happened over the course of the last sprint. These stakeholders should include:
Once you have your list of attendees together, make sure to find a time that is suitable to the whole group, and avoid meetings outside regular working hours. If this is not possible for some team members, reach out to them before sending the meeting invitation to make sure they are able to accommodate.
Note: While sprint retrospectives are typically conducted in real-time, there can also be situations where your team is globally distributed, making synchronous meetings all but impossible. Don’t despair! Sprint retrospectives can also be run effectively as asynchronous meetings — we’ve even built a template just for that purpose.
Whichever platform you choose to conduct your meetings and gather feedback, make sure to use that same framework regularly to build consistency and trust, as well as give yourself the opportunity to make direct comparisons with past sprints and carry over action items directly into your next retro.
There are many different approaches to sprint retrospective templates, but they generally follow a pattern of asking three questions: What went well? What needs improvement? What ideas do we want to test in the next sprint?
Given the above, there are many potential options for how to visualize the process. If this is a weekly meeting, our Weekly Team Retrospective template (set for a 30 minute max length) is a great place to start.
Another more basic approach is the Traffic Light Retro, which offers a simple ‘start, stop, continue’ format — because of its simplicity, this can be used for teams, or even for one-on-one meetings to check in on progress and make adjustments.
Adding another level of visual organization can help blend ideation with prioritization, and speed up innovation. For example, the Retrospective Radar template, designed by Anthony Coppedge, Global Agile Digital Sales Transformation Lead at IBM, builds in a further framework that helps managers understand what issues are under the team’s control, what they may be able to influence, and what areas there are of concern. By organizing the sticky notes from the initial feedback round inside the radar visual, managers can understand both the feedback and needs of their team at a glance.
For larger projects, our Quarterly Kanban and Retrospective template provides space for any backlog items, what’s being prepared for upcoming sprints, things that are in progress, any test results, and what has already been done — as well as any suggestions for improvements your team may have.
And, the Project Retro template (built for a run time of 1-3 hours) includes an ice breaker exercise, and ample room for longer discussions within the usual framework.
4. Time-box your meeting
Sprints are based on regular temporal cadences. Your sprint retrospectives should follow suit. In general, your meeting should be 45 minutes or less (especially if this is a weekly practice), though for larger projects or more irregular gatherings, you may want to have longer run times.
It’s important not to get bogged down too heavily in specifics or tactical thinking, so make sure to time-box your ideation and feedback sessions. Using tools like a timer for each section of your meeting helps create a basis of understanding and keeps things from stagnating.
5. Organize your feedback
As noted above, one of the keys to running a successful sprint retrospective is not only collecting, but also organizing all the great results from your brainstorming and ideation so that they can be translated into next steps.
With online sticky notes, you can use color coding and tags to start organizing feedback, so that you can more easily identify themes. Are there patterns that you see emerging? What opportunities might those patterns suggest?
And, as with the Retrospective Radar template, having a visual framework for analyzing how much control your team may or may not have over a given issue informs your next moves and makes it clear where managers can step in if more cross-functional collaboration is necessary.
The end of every meeting should mean you have actionable next steps. Because you’ve taken the time to not only brainstorm and identify problems together, but also organize that feedback in a framework that makes it clear what needs to be done to improve, what obstacles may be in the way, and what you’d like to test in the next sprint, assigning action items will become a natural part of the process.
Your team will be energized because they’ll have a clear sense of purpose, responsibility, and confidence knowing that everyone has a shared understanding of the expectations and the mission.
A sprint retrospective is a meeting that occurs at the end of each sprint. The sprint retro is your team’s opportunity to not only reflect and learn from the previous sprint, but also plan exactly what ideas you’d like to test in the next sprint.
The 6 steps needed for a successful sprint retro are:
Choose a visual collaboration platform
Gather all product owners, developers, and Scrum masters
Pick a visual template you’ll consistently use
Time-box your meeting and all activities therein
Save all your ideas and organize your feedback
Create actionable next steps
MURAL is built for better sprint retrospectives
A digital whiteboard is a great place to start, but there is so much more you can do with MURAL to brainstorm more effectively, better elucidate problems, and build a pathway to success.
Sign up for a Free Forever account today, invite unlimited guests, and hit the ground running with one of our many Agile templates, built by experts like IBM and the LUMA Institute.