December 06, 2023

Retrospective – Why and How?

Alen Bumbulović, Scrum Master (Spiro)
“It doesn't matter how good you are today; if you're not better next month, you're no longer agile. You must always, always, always try to improve.” - Mike Cohn, Agile Trainer and author of "Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum Methodology" 
If we reflect on Mike Cohn's quote, we'll understand that without a retrospective, a team cannot be agile. The fundamental goal of a retrospective is to fix what's not working in a team and continuously improve what the team is already doing well. Therefore, the answer to the "why" lies in this.

Here are the reasons why every team should regularly conduct retrospectives:

Continuous improvement: Retrospectives enable the team to enhance its performance continuously. By identifying and addressing problems, the team becomes more productive and effective.

Team spirit: Despite occasional conflicts, retrospectives strengthen team spirit. Team members feel their voices matter through open discussions and collaborative problem-solving, fostering a stronger commitment.

Improved communication: Retrospectives promote open and honest communication, helping to prevent misunderstandings. It's crucial to keep discussions focused on the team's challenges and avoid taking anything personally.

Increased transparency: Every team member is informed about everything happening within and around the team. Transparency is a cornerstone of Scrum.

Learning from experience: By analyzing previous retrospectives and experiences, the team learns and can avoid repeating mistakes.

And how to go about it? 

Relax your team: Start the retrospective with an informal conversation to relax and create a bond between team members. If you prefer a structured approach, begin with an icebreaker question. The Internet is your friend; use it.

Data collection: Use online tools or a simple board and stickers to gather feedback from all team members.

Data analysis: Begin with what the team thinks went well in the past period. This boosts the team's confidence and motivates them to address issues. Continue with aspects that the team believes could be improved or changed.
It is essential to emphasize the following guidelines:
- avoid personalizing discussions; don't take anything personally
- listen to team members with an open mind
- give everyone a chance to express their thoughts
- focus on improvement rather than blaming

Planning and action: Identify a few crucial things/problems the team needs to work on, the causes behind them, and the goals to achieve in the upcoming period. Divide tasks into those the entire team is responsible for and those for individual team members or sub-teams. Decide together on the best way to address the identified issues.

Review: The team should periodically check the progress set in the previous phase to ensure they're heading in the right direction. Similarly, the team should conduct a review during the next retrospective, between the first and second phases.

Retrospective is a vital ceremony that encourages continuous improvement and allows team members to learn from their experiences. It strengthens team spirit and enhances interpersonal relationships. Through well-designed and executed retrospectives, teams can become more efficient and productive.