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Sprint Retrospective Meeting: How, Why & When

Sprint Retrospective Meeting: How, Why & When

Alyssa Towns
June 8, 2023
Updated on:

Sprint Retrospective Meeting: How, Why & When
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The final stage of the sprint cycle is a sprint retrospective—an opportunity to identify areas of improvement for the next sprint cycle. In this brief guide, we’ll take you on a deep dive into the sprint retrospective so that you can end your sprint cycles as effectively as possible.

Keep reading to learn: 

  • What an agile retrospective is
  • When to conduct sprint retrospectives
  • Different activities to try during retros
  • An example of a retro agenda 
  • Tips for scheduling sprint retro meetings

What is a retrospective meeting?

A retrospective, sometimes referred to as a retro, is a structured meeting that occurs after completing some work (a project, product, work in a duration of time, etc.). It’s a meeting that allows the team to reflect on past work and consider how to do things better in the future. Teams come together to discuss their successes, failures, areas of improvement, and lessons learned. 

In most cases, following a successful retrospective, team members leave with an action plan to help them prevent similar mistakes and hiccups they identified from occurring during future projects. Retros are particularly popular among Scrum teams, including the Scrum master, product owner, and development team. Retros are also an essential practice in project management, and many project managers conduct retrospective meetings following the completion of a project. 

When is a sprint retrospective held?

A sprint retrospective is a recurring meeting to review and improve sprint cycles. They’re held between sprints, after the sprint review, and before the sprint planning session for the next sprint. Sprint retros are designed to allow Scrum teams an opportunity to review the goals and outputs of the last sprint, identifying what worked well and what didn’t so that the next sprint will be more effective, which is why this specific point in time works well for these meetings.

Why hold a sprint retrospective meeting?

Conducting a sprint retrospective meeting might seem like an additional meeting that sucks up time that could be better spent. However, there are many reasons why Agile teams should pause and create space for a sprint retro on their calendars. Below are a small handful of the numerous benefits of sprint retrospectives. 

1. Sprint retros foster safe and transparent environments.

Well-executed and successful retros provide a safe space for the team to share honest feedback about their recent work. While one team member may have had a positive experience during a recent sprint, another team member might have had a negative one. Without a designated space to share these concerns, team members may not have another way to gather insight into each others’ differing points of view. 

Sharing details about one’s experience vulnerably promotes a culture of openness. This helps team members feel more connected to one another rather than harbor bitter resentment, as they can safely air and address their concerns and determine better ways to work together.

2. Effective retrospectives boost collaboration among Scrum teams.

Retrospectives are good team-building exercises that boost collaboration and improve working methods. When developers engage in healthy discussion during the sprint retro, they generate and exchange new ideas to help their team improve. Providing space for brainstorming ideas and developing action plans ensures that perspectives across the group are considered and addressed, which leads to more well-rounded solutions.

Additionally, retrospectives are a great place to ask for feedback and advice, allowing team members to invest in each other’s growth and success. Retros promote a learning culture within teams, both for the team as a whole and for individuals. 

3. Sprint retros provide space to celebrate achievements.

Too often, we bounce from one piece of work to the next, rarely reserving time to pause and celebrate the great work accomplished. Not only are retrospectives about identifying areas of improvement, but they’re also the perfect place to acknowledge and celebrate the team’s work in between sprints. Celebrating successes boosts team morale and motivates team members to continue to give their best effort.

4. Teams can use retros to identify and tackle issues as they arise.

Sprint retrospectives encourage a culture of continuous improvement, allowing developers to raise issues throughout the development cycle and address them as they arise. Rather than point fingers and blame one another, effective teams will discuss issues, understand the root cause, and then figure out how to fix it. 

The first step is facilitating a discussion to identify issues that arose during the sprint, whether related to unclear requirements, technical difficulties, or exhausting demands. Then, teams should prioritize them and brainstorm solutions that uncover and address the underlying root causes. Digging into these challenges and agreeing to actions that will help solve them will improve performance and lead to meaningful improvements that keep the team delivering their best work. 

Activities during a sprint retrospective meeting

Successful retrospectives require whole team participation and engagement, which means sometimes you must get creative when facilitating a retro. Consider switching up the format by using different retrospective activities to keep things interesting. Here are some common techniques teams love and use.

1. Mad, Sad, Glad 

A Mad, Sad, Glad retro frames the team discussion around the emotional experience of the previous sprint. It allows Scrum teams to vent their frustrations constructively and incorporates an examination of things that went well to do again in the next sprint. Running this type of activity is pretty straightforward as team members complete the following:

  • Mad: Write down events or experiences that triggered anger and frustration 
  • Sad: Share events or experiences that felt disappointing 
  • Glad: Write down the events or experiences that made you feel good 

mad sad glad

Image source: Miro

2. Start, Stop, Continue

The Start, Stop, Continue activity focuses on processes, habits, and workflows. The team defines what they should start, stop, and continue doing as a team to improve during the next sprint. This activity is perfect for generating ideas quickly and removes personal blame from the picture as the team is more focused on how to work more efficiently and productively. 

Team members reflect on the following questions:

  • What should we start doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • What should we continue doing?

sprint retrospective

Image source: Atlassian 

3. 4 Ls 

The 4Ls technique is easy to use and grounds the reflective conversation in evaluating the team’s overall experience from an objective perspective. The 4 Ls activity removes the emotional elements from the sprint and encourages the team to consider what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for. 

Image source: Miro 

Example sprint retrospective meeting agenda 

You can structure your sprint retrospective in any way that works best for your team. The structure of your meeting might depend on your team’s size, the session length, and what information you hope to gain from the retro. 

Not sure where to start? Here’s an example agenda template to use as a starting point: 

1. Introduction (5 minutes): Share the purpose of the sprint retrospective and welcome the team to the meeting. Review the agenda and desired outcomes, and ask if there are any questions before diving in. 

2. Recap the goals of the sprint (10 minutes): Even though it’s likely fresh in the team’s memory, recap the agreed-upon goals for the sprint. Encourage a discussion around the extent to which the team achieved its goals. 

3. Celebrate success and achievements (10 minutes): Allow team members to recognize their individual and collective success. Encourage all team members to participate and express gratitude and appreciation for one another.

4. Conduct a retrospective activity (20 minutes): Try one of the activities outlined above to frame the conversation and reflection. No matter how you structure this section of the meeting, ensure the team touches on what went well and what needs to be improved for the next sprint to run better.

5. Develop an action plan (10 minutes): Teams should develop an action plan based on their discussions and prioritize the identified areas of improvement. As part of the action plan, assign responsible team members to take ownership of necessary changes. It’s also helpful to set deadlines for action items to ensure team members complete them in a reasonable timeframe for the best results. 

6. End of meeting wrap-up (5 minutes): End the session with a summary of key points discussed, recap action items, and share the next steps. Thank the team for their work during the sprint one last time and for their contributions to the retrospective meeting.  

Scheduling retrospective meetings

Don’t wait until the end of every sprint to schedule your retrospective meetings. Retros require thoughtful planning. Below are some tips and tricks to help you efficiently schedule sprint retrospective meetings.

Ensure all team members can attend the retrospective.

Retros are most effective when all team members can provide their points of view, so it’s essential to plan the meeting during a time that works well for everyone’s schedules. With Clockwise, you can find the perfect time to meet without having to Slack back and forth with the team to find a time that works. 

Commit to a schedule with regular intervals.

Schedule sprint retrospectives at regular intervals at the end of each sprint. If you know your sprint schedule, you can get retrospective meetings on the calendar in advance, even if you need to adjust the time later. 

Allocate enough time for a meaningful discussion. 

Work with your team to determine an appropriate duration for an effective retrospective meeting. The meeting length will vary depending on the team's size, the agenda's layout, the sprint's complexity, and the team’s dynamics. It’s always better to reserve more time than you need than run out of time during a productive conversation. Additionally, devoting time after the meeting for team members to capture final notes and thoughts can be helpful.

Going forward 

Sprint retrospectives help Scrum teams review and improve sprint cycles. During sprint retros, teams discuss their successes, failures, areas of improvement, and lessons learned. Effective retros boost collaboration, foster transparent environments, and allow teams to celebrate their accomplishments together.

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns has written productivity and time management content for Clockwise for several years. Early in her career, she dove into time management strategies to effectively manage her workday calendar and 10+ C-Suite officers' calendars across various organizations. She uses her training in change management to write time management, the future of work, and career content that helps people change their behaviors and habits. In addition, she writes about artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology for G2's Learn Hub. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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