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A Guide For
Why Do Retrospectives?
Inspect and Adapt. This is one of the most important and fundamental
principles in Agile. The sprint retrospective is a facility for the team to
continuously inspect their work and adapt in order to improve teamwork and
efficiency. Retrospectives help teams, even great ones, to improve. It should
not be overlooked or skipped!
The Sprint Retrospective meeting occurs after the Sprint Review and prior to
the next Sprint Planning meeting. At this meeting the ScrumMaster encourages
the Scrum Team to revise, within the Scrum process framework and practices,
their development process to make it more effective and enjoyable for the
next Sprint. Many books document techniques that are helpful to use in
Retrospectives. "Agile Retrospectives - Making Good Teams Great" by Esther
Derby and Diana Larsen is a really good book on Agile Retrospectives.
The purpose of the Retrospective is to inspect how the last Sprint went in
regards to people, relationships, process and tools. The inspection should
identify and prioritize the major items that went well and those items that-if
done differently-could make things even better. These include Scrum Team
composition, meeting arrangements, tools, definition of "done," methods of
communication, and processes for turning Product Backlog items into
something "done." By the end of the Sprint Retrospective, the Scrum Team
should have identified actionable improvement measures that it can implement
in the next Sprint. These changes become the adaptation to the empirical
Here is a solid structure for the Sprint Retrospective meeting taken directly
from the book, Agile Retrospectives:
1) Set the stage
2) Gather data
3) Generate insights
4) Decide what to do
5) Close the retrospective
Set the stage: Restate the purpose of the retrospective and the goal for
the session. Emphasize the importance of everyone's participation.
Gather data: Discuss the events that happened during the sprint. This
includes meetings, decision points, milestones, etc. Did the team successfully
complete its commitments? Use any available metrics including burndown
charts, velocity, defect counts, stories completed, unit test coverage, etc.
Generate insights: The team considers the data to identify strengths and
issues from the previous iteration. Lead the team to examine the conditions,
interactions, and patterns that contributed to their success. Investigate
breakdowns and deficiencies.
Decide what to do: At this point, the team has a list of potential
experiments and improvements. Now it is time to pick the top items and plan
what to do. Provide structure and guidance for your team to plan experiments
Close the retrospective: Review the plan for changes. Help the team
decide how they will retain what they've learned from the retrospective. Make
these changes highly visible to the team using visual records, lists, or charts.
End the meeting on a positive note. Thank everyone for their hard work during
both the iteration and the retrospective.
Using this structure will help your team do the following:
• Understand different points of view
• Follow a natural order of thinking
• Take a comprehensive view of the team's current methods and
• Allow the discussion to go where it needs to go, rather than
predetermining the outcome.
• Leave the retrospective with concrete actions and experiments
for the next iteration.
One of the most obvious fears people have when first trying a
retrospective is that the ritual will become a negative gripe session,
interspersed with blame and counter blame. Clearly such an event
will not contribute to much learning.
The key to a constructive successful retrospective is assuring that all
the participants adhere to the Retrospective Prime Directive.
Retrospective Prime Directive:
Some days are better than others. Some days I’m in the “flow”
state, doing awesome work. Some days I come to the end of a day
and realized I’ve wasted a lot of time, made mistakes that I should
have foreseen, or wish I could have done something differently.
Regardless, those days have happened and our purpose here is
to find out:
§ What can we learn from our past actions and thinking that will
inform and guide our future actions and thinking so that we
can do a little better?
§ How can we change our environment (“the system”) so that
it’s easier for us to do awesome work and less likely for us for
us to waste time and make mistakes?
Use the retrospective prime directive to help set the stage for the
retrospective. Go over it frequently and consider printing and
posting it in the team area where retrospectives are
• Working Agreements
• Team Satisfaction Survey
• Art Gallery
• Start, Stop, Continue
• Happy, Sad, Different
• Lean Coffee
• Learning Matrix
Establish working agreements before you start the first
retrospective. These are social contracts where the team members
agree on how they’ll work together during the retrospectives. Here
are some examples:
• Avoid blame. Use “I” language rather than “you” language when
• No personal attacks
• Focus on the problem, not on personalities
• Avoid interrupting others
Everyone on the team is responsible for holding others accountable
for following these rules.
Call out behavior that violates working agreements. Don’t blame
them, just call attention to the negative behavior.
Trust is one of the most important attributes of a successful team.
Blame can quickly work to undermine and remove trust within the
team. Be quick to call out behavior that promotes blame of any
Also, consider establishing working agreements for everyday work
as well. This might include elements such as “core hours”, work
from home days, communicating PTO to the team, etc. Encourage
the team to create working agreements that promote trust and
Team Satisfaction Survey
This is a great exercise to measure how well the team thinks they
are working together. Repeat this exercise at regular intervals and
use it to help identify potential problems with team dynamics.
Create the following scale on a large sheet of flip chart paper:
Introduce the activity by saying, “Today we’ll create a baseline
measurement for our level of satisfaction with the way we work
together. We can repeat this activity regularly to track our
Have each team member write down a number that corresponds
with how well they feel the team is working. Collect them secret
ballot style and average the results. Share the results with the team
and place the number with the date on a post-it note at the bottom
of the flip chart. Repeat every few sprints and monitor the results.
How Satisfied Are We?
5= I think we are the best team on the planet! We
work great together.
4= I am glad I’m a part of the team and satisfied with
how our team works together.
3= I’m fairly satisfied. We work well together most of
2= I have some moments of satisfaction, but not
1= I’m unhappy and dissatisfied with our level of
This is a great opening exercise for a longer project or release
retrospective. It can also be a great icebreaker for first time
The team members are given a single large post-it note and pens.
Ask them to draw a face (or any picture) that represents "how was
it to work on the project during this release".
Participants are given 2-3 minutes for this activity. At the end of the
drawing phase, each team member places his or her drawing on the
wall. The facilitator can group similar faces together to help the
team get a sense of the overall feelings toward the sprint or
A simple variation on this (for less creative teams J) is to have the
participants write a single word to describe the sprint on a post-it
note. Group similar words together and discuss them with the
Start, Stop, Continue
This is probably the simplest retrospective method but it can be
very effective. This makes it a great technique for teams that are
new to retrospectives.
The team should reflect on three things:
1. What should the team start doing?
2. What should they stop doing?
3. What should they continue doing?
There are many variations on this simple format. The ScrumMaster
can facilitate this meeting by having the team focus on each
question separately in 3 short “rounds”. Team members can write
down topics on separate post-it notes and take turns explaining
each one and putting them on the board at the end of each round.
It can be more of a brainstorm where everyone can just shout out
ideas. The ScrumMaster can go around the room asking each
person to identify any one thing to start, stop or continue.
After an initial list of ideas has been brainstormed, teams will
commonly vote on specific items to focus on during the coming
sprint. A popular method for this is called “dot voting”. Each
participant is given a number of dots with which to vote. You can
also use check marks with markers but in both cases, you’ll want to
limit the number of votes that each team member can use.
At the end of the sprint, the next retrospective is often begun by
reviewing the list of things selected for attention in the prior
Happy, Sad, Different
Much like Start, Stop, Continue, this retrospective technique is
simple and can be varied as needed.
The team should reflect on three things:
1. What went well this past sprint?
2. What didn’t go well this past sprint?
3. What should we change or do differently?
There are many variations that can be done based on this approach.
My personal favorite is to draw three symbols that represent the
three questions such as a happy face, sad face, and a question
mark. Have individuals brainstorm on each question for 5-10
minutes using post-it notes. After each brainstorm session, have
each person share their post-it notes by explaining each one and
placing it on the board under the appropriate image. Encourage
the team to ask questions and dig into bigger issues.
Have the team decide which action items they should take on
during the next sprint. Consider having the team dot vote on which
things are most important to act on and discuss the plan for taking
Start by drawing a large 2×2 matrix with a square, labeled
“Actions” in the middle; this is where you’ll place the changes that
the team commits to making as a result of the retrospective. The
other squares represent different categories.
• Appreciations: What you liked during the previous iteration.
• Risks: Future pitfalls that can endanger the project.
• Puzzles: Questions for which you have no answer.
• Wishes: Not improvements, but ideas of your ideal project.
Next, all of the players write their ideas for each category on sticky
notes, which they then explain to the group and post onto the
chart. As a team, discuss the novelty, feasibility, and impact of the
ideas, and collaborate to analyze how they can be applied to the
next event. The goal is to create practical and reasonable “Actions”
in the middle.
Draw a picture of a cloud with wind, a sailboat with an anchor, and
an iceberg similar to the one seen above.
The imagery here represents the following:
Winds = The things that propel us.
Anchor = The things that are holding us back or making us slower.
Iceberg = Things to look out for.
Have the team take time to think about each of these aspects of
the project or sprint and write them down on post-it notes. Take
turns placing the notes in the appropriate area of the image and
discuss each one with the group.
Use dot voting to identify the things the team thinks are most
important to address.
Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants
gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are
directed and productive because the agenda for the meeting was
Have the team brainstorm a list of topics to be discussed as part of
the retrospective. Let each team member describe the topic and
write it on the whiteboard or stick a post-it note on the wall. After
all the topics are up, have the team dot vote on the topics they feel
are most important to discuss. Give each team member 2-3 votes
Prioritize the topics based on the dot votes and discuss them in
priority order for the time you have allotted for discussion.
The power here is that you now have a list of topics everyone at the
table is interested in and is motivated to discuss for real.
Before the retrospective, create a 2×2 matrix. Draw a picture in
each quadrant to represent a different aspect involved in your
Quadrant 1: Sad face for aspects you disliked, should be changed
Quadrant 2: Happy face for aspects you liked, should be repeated
Quadrant 3: Light bulb for new ideas to try
Quadrant 4: Flower bouquet for people you appreciated
Provide participants with plenty of sticky notes and markers. Allow
5-10 minutes for them to individually write down their ideas for the
four topics on separate notes. After everyone is done writing their
ideas, ask them to present their sticky notes to the group and to
post them on the designated sections of the chart.
Narrow down the notes to a few requiring immediate attention. To
do this, give each person 6 – 10 dot stickers (or colored markers),
which they will use to dot vote for the ideas they believe are top-
priority. Resolve ties by discussing which note is more pressing or
having another dot vote. Count all the votes to determine which
ideas should be focused on. Narrowing ideas down is important, as
it allows the team to concentrate on priorities and increases the
chance of effective improvements being made.
Move the notes around to reflect the order of priority. Collaborate
to evaluate how these ideas can be used to enhance your next
iteration and discuss where you can begin making improvements.
Use this to gather data and reflect on a longer project or release.
Draw a horizontal timeline on the whiteboard and add indicators
using weeks, months, sprints, or milestones. Draw a smiley face
above the timeline and a sad face below the timeline.
Introduce the activity by telling participants that they will be
constructing a timeline to create a complete picture of the
iteration/release/project. The goal is to create the timeline from
Invite team members to take around 10 minutes to write down
memorable facts and events that happened during the sprint or
release. They should focus on events that were both positive as well
Next, have everyone come together to fill in the timeline as a
group. Instruct them to place their post-its on the timeline in the
appropriate place. Have them place positive events above the
timeline and negative events below. They should group similar
Once completed, the timeline should be a left to right chronological
order of events for the project. Walk the timeline together as a
group and discuss major events. Use dot voting or a similar
technique to identify the most important issues to resolve.
• If the meeting becomes stale and less productive over time,
change up the format and structure to make it more
• Ask other team members to facilitate!
• Change the location of the retrospective. Maybe go outside if
the weather is nice!
• Change up the format for gathering feedback. Introduce Post-
It notes for writing issues and ideas.
• Make action items visible! Consider posting them in the team
room near the task board or anywhere they will be seen.
• Require each member of the team to talk about the sprint.
• Ask the entire team to vote on areas to focus on improving.
• Resist the urge to only hold retrospectives when something
bad has happened. Doing them regularly helps create a safe
environment where people are more comfortable talking
candidly about things that went wrong and need improving.
• Avoid including direct managers in retrospectives as this can
sometimes affect the openness and candor of the discussion.
• Don’t forget to ask for feedback on the retrospectives from
time to time. See how the team thinks they are going.
Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great
Esther Derby | Diana Larsen
Dave Gray | Sunni Brown | James Macanufo