When the projects and sprints are over, the work isn’t done. 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.
Retrospective meetings provide that structure.
What are sprint retrospectives?
Retrospectives (or ‘retros’) are held at the end of each project or sprint to reflect on what went well, what needs to improve, and what ideas may have potential. The goal is to evaluate past performance to improve process efficiency, teamwork, workflows, interactions, and the team’s definition of done.
Retrospectives have many benefits, including:
- Identify challenges or opportunities for improvement in real-time
- Create a safe space for teams to voice feedback and raise concerns
- Improve collaboration by fixing workflows
Sprint retrospective meetings
During a retrospective meeting, the team members gather together to discuss and analyze the successes and failures of the project, the effectiveness of the team's communication and collaboration, and the overall process used to complete the work.
The goal of sprint retrospective meetings is to identify areas of improvement and come up with action items to address them in future projects or iterations. Retrospectives are an essential part of continuous improvement and help teams to learn from their mistakes and make incremental improvements over time.
Types of retrospectives
There are many different types of retrospectives, but most of them make sure to touch on a few key points:
- What went poorly?
- What went well?
- What can we do better next time?
A simple retrospective to understand what went well, what went poorly, what ideas the team has, and how to take action to make the next sprint or project better.
Reflect on a completed project and looks for opportunities to improve the way they work together in the future.
Though most often used by agile teams following the Agile methodology, the project retrospective is also helpful for any team looking to reflect on project progress and encourage continuous improvement.
Assess how well a project has been executed and identify areas for improvement. Sailboat retrospectives use a sailboat voyage as a memorable metaphor for the journey of completing a project or initiative from start to finish.
Traffic light retrospective
Use a stoplight as a metaphor to consider and define what your team should start, stop, and continue doing.
Rose, thorn, & bud retrospective
Use this framework to identify things as positive, negative, or having potential with the metaphor of a rose, its thorns, and a rosebud.
A great remote retrospective option for distributed teams, conduct a retrospective asynchronously and reduce the number of meetings a team has to sit through.
How to run effective retrospective meetings
1. Prepare for the retro
Traditional, in-person retrospectives usually involve a whiteboard, some post-it notes, and some markers in a meeting room. Now, with increasingly hybrid and remote working environments, it’s not always possible to be in the same room. Even if you’re meeting in-person a digital collaboration platform like Mural is your best friend.
If you’re conducting a remote retrospective, be sure to agree on which video conferencing tool (like Zoom) the team will use to communicate effectively.
Next, invite everyone that should be involved in the retrospective. You may not need to invite the entire team, just the main stakeholders involved the scope of the project or week sprint in question. This includes stakeholders like:
- Product owners
- Product developers
- Scrum masters
We also recommend having an impartial facilitator to help keep the retrospective on task, allow for better collaboration among the key stakeholders, and record insights.
2. Start the retrospective
Get the team warmed up and set the stage with a quick icebreaker and any necessary introductions.
Kick off the retrospective meeting by explaining the purpose and any ground rules that the team should follow. This might include emphasizing the importance of open and honest communication, active listening, and respectful behavior.
3. Review the project or sprint
Invite team members to share their perspectives on what went well and what didn't during the project or iteration. You might use prompts such as "What did we accomplish?" and "What could we have done differently?" Encourage everyone to contribute and avoid jumping to conclusions or blame.
By the end of this step, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What went well?
- What went poorly?
- What ideas do you have?
- How should we take action?
4. Look for insights and common themes
Look for patterns and themes in the data that emerges from the team's discussion. Ask questions to clarify and explore any areas of ambiguity. Identify strengths and areas for improvement.
5. Decide on next steps
Conduct a brainstorm on possible solutions or new ideas that can make the next sprint or project better based on the feedback from this retrospective. Group similar or duplicate items and hold a vote to assign a priority to the changes.
6. Wrap up the retrospective
Summarize the insights and action items that were identified during the meeting, and encourage team members to follow up on their commitments. Thank everyone for their participation and remind them that the purpose of the retrospective is to improve future projects or iterations.
Tips for getting the most out of retrospectives
Use a consistent format
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.
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.
Read more: 5 Tips for Holding Effective Post-Mortems
Create concrete action items
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.
Remember: retrospectives don’t happen in a vacuum
Issues raised in retrospectives should be openly discussed and addressed in other agile meetings. Be sure to provide status updates in daily stand-ups and include the action items when starting the next sprint planning session.
Note: Be sure to look at the notes from previous retrospective meetings to ensure retrospective ideas are being addressed.
The bottom line: be prepared for your next retrospective
Typically used in software development, but widely applicable to other uses, a retrospective is a meeting that occurs at the end of each sprint or project. The sprint retro is your team’s opportunity to reflect and learn from the previous sprint, identify team needs, and also plan exactly what ideas you’d like to test in the next sprint or project.
The 6 steps needed for a successful retrospective are:
- Prepare with the right tools and participants
- Start off the retro with an icebreaker
- Review the project and cover the highlights
- Look for insights and common themes
- Decide on next steps
- Wrap up the retro and follow-up
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.
Frequently asked questions about retrospectives
Who should be involved in a retrospective?
Make sure 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:
- Product owners
- Product developers
- Scrum masters
Find a time that is suitable for the whole team, 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.
What tools do you need for a retrospective?
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. Even if you’re meeting in-person a digital collaboration platform is your best friend.
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.
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