Team Specific Retrospectives

At the end of an iteration you are probably running a team retrospective with specific decisions defining the goal, key markers, and how the session should flow. It can be all too easy to repeat the same retrospective format over and over, asking what went well and not so well, what can we start doing and what should we stop doing in the following iterations. Before doing any of this though, it is important to investigate and learn the right approach just as you would over the course of a development iteration.

Even in the event you have been leading retrospectives for your team and have a good idea of the history and context of the group, check your assumptions and have another look at the team’s historical record, morale, job satisfaction, and energy relating to the current state of the project.

When working with a team outside of your own take a moment to study their surroundings, where individuals work in relation to one another and how they interact on a day-to-day basis. Appreciate how they operate during ceremonies, what they do and do not do along with what artifacts they maintain and if any artifacts are missing entirely. The information you gather will help guide the team to an appropriate goal, utilising your observations to offer questions to ask around problems the team is facing.

Questions to ask yourself as Scrum Master

  • What was achieved during this iteration, what was committed to at the start of the iteration and how did the resulting outcome match up against the expectations?
  • What factors going on elsewhere in the organisation may be affecting the team?
  • What happened in previous project reviews and how were the action steps of those ceremonies received and addressed?
  • What are the working and personal relationships within the team and how do these affect those involved and those on the fringes?
  • What is the team excited about and what anxieties do they hold?
  • What outcome would provide value to the project sponsor and team members for the time invested in a retrospective?
  • How has the team received and worked with facilitators in the past?

Set a goal

Time is an important investment for a scrum team so it is important to define a goal at the start of a retrospective to gain team buy-in to spending the time reflecting on the most recent sprint.

A retrospective goal should be broad enough to allow your team to think creatively and be open to possibilities based on their experiences and insights. Unlike traditional goals the retrospective goal works best if you do not define a measurable outcome.

Determine what can be assessed instead of what can be addressed. You want to reflect on what happened during a sprint by having an open and honest forum to discuss and bounce ideas freely amongst the team. By focusing on addressing something from the outset you are preventing the consideration of other aspects and directing the discussion.

How long should a retrospective last?

45 minutes per week of work is considered a good starting point, although it is best to use this as a rough guide and not a rule. Look at the team to get a feel for how long the retrospective should last and consider these factors:

  • How long is the sprint iteration?
  • Overall complexity – tech stack, relationships, departments
  • Number of people in the team
  • Level of conflict/controversy

A sprint retrospective is a reflection of the most recent sprint, while a project retrospective reflects on the length of the project and should be afforded an appropriate duration. To take shortcuts on the time allowed is to cheat the results and benefits that come out of retrospective reviews. An hour may be enough time for a sprint review but a project review can require a whole day or longer in some cases.


As the facilitator of a retrospective you should spend an adequate amount of time planning, ensuring the logistics have been considered and there is an appropriate set of activities to engage the team for the duration of the ceremony.

Early on it can take as long to plan a retrospective as it does to conduct it with the team, over time this period will reduce but you will never require zero planning. To not prepare at all for a retrospective would mean you’re not thinking about it at all, which is a recipe for failure and a disservice to those taking part.

Facilitating the Retrospective

Outline the structure of the retrospective so everyone involved is aware of the plan, making sure to set aside the largest portion of the session to gathering data and generating insights. Take breaks at logical stopping points.

Encourage equal participation and new perspectives with a focus on the conversation, helping the smaller voices to be heard and boosting the confidence of those perhaps anxious of sharing what might be a controversial contribution.

Choose activities that require team work and collaboration to deliver results and mix things up by pairing off with people in the team that do not normally work together on a day-to-day basis.

Provide paper and markers so that insights can be captured in a highly visible way. Arrange insights on a board for all to see and ponder over throughout the session, ensuring no one insight is diminished because of the quality and colour of the paper combined with the quality and clarity of the marker. I like to use Post-it notes and Black Sharpies, there are enough similar shades of post-it notes to group contributions by colour if needed without a significant contrast and black sharpies are big enough and bold enough to be read from a reasonable distance.

Reflect on the Retrospective

It is important for a team to reflect on the most recent sprint, and it is equally important to reflect on the retrospective. A retrospective focuses on all the ceremonies, artifacts, and interactions included during a sprint while the retrospective itself is easily forgotten as a key aspect of the iteration.

Gaining feedback and insight about how the retrospective has been received and performed will help the facilitator to learn and improve going forward just as we intend to in Scrum. By gathering feedback and acting on this feedback you will garner greater respect and participation in future retrospectives leading to a constantly improving cycle of reflection to help remove waste and accelerate team performance.

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