When it comes to holding a sprint retrospective, the Scrum Master’s primary concern is often what the outcomes of the exercise will be. But concentrating solely on results misses half of the equation — we’d argue the most important half!
To get the best possible information and action items out of a retrospective, you have to start by finding the right sprint retrospective questions to ask. This can (and should) be 50% of the work in running an effective review.
Luckily, in this blog, we’ve done most of that work for you!
A quick recap of sprint retrospectives
If you’re not familiar with the basics of running a sprint retrospective, here’s a quick rundown:
A sprint retrospective is an in-depth review meeting that takes place immediately at the end of a sprint. A Scrum Master will gather together all the critical stakeholders of the sprint and:
- Gather data and insights from their team (what went well, what went poorly, etc.)
- Discuss the data and insights and make action items around them
- Make a plan for improvements on the next sprint
There are four key things to keep in mind in order to run a productive sprint retrospective:
Timing - Sprint retrospectives should happen immediately after the conclusion of a sprint. The length of the meeting will vary depending on the length of the sprint. For example, a two-month sprint might require a half-day retrospective, whereas a week-long sprint might only need 30 minutes.
Model - There are a lot of different models and templates that you can use for sprint retrospectives. Using a model can help keep things fun, organized, and enhance team participation.
Setting expectations and creating a safe space for sharing - Before you begin any retrospective, get everyone in your group on the same page by laying some ground rules. Discuss how the retrospective will run and what the goals are. Make sure everyone knows that there should be no blame, judgmental comments, or blatant negativity. Keep things light but focused. And last but not least (the subject of what we’ll be discussing in this article):
Asking good sprint retrospective questions - What do you say in a retrospective meeting?
Let’s dive in!
The best sprint retrospective meeting questions
We’re going to break these questions out into sections based on each phase of a typical retrospective:
- Before you begin the retrospective
- Brainstorming and data gathering
Questions to ask before you begin the retrospective
This is your chance to set the tone for the whole review. Your ultimate goal for questions here is to gauge the team pulse on the project. What you ask here will either start the retrospective off on a positive or more negative foot – so it’s important to get it right. Make sure everyone is prepared to begin, and all relevant agenda items have been added.
Here are some sample questions to start with:
- Does everyone feel comfortable sharing today?
- Does everyone agree with the agenda and our time limit for today’s retrospective?
- Anything you’d like to get off your chest before we begin?
- Does everyone fully understand the idea behind the model/template we’ll be using for this retrospective?
- Can we all go around and give one compliment about this sprint to another member of the team? (This question will help set a positive tone!)
Questions to ask during the brainstorming and data gathering phase
For this next phase of the retrospective, your questions should focus on making sure the direction and goals of the retrospective are crystal clear to all of your participants.
This section should also undoubtedly include the “big 4” agile sprint retrospective questions.
What are the 4 retrospective questions?
- What went right in this sprint?
- What went wrong in this sprint?
- What can we commit to in our next sprint?
- What have you learned from this project?
Consider asking these additional questions as well:
- What were our strengths in this sprint as a team?
- What were our weaknesses in this sprint?
- What were the biggest obstacles in achieving our goal?
- What were the biggest enablers?
- Who helped you immensely on the team during this sprint?
- What pitfalls do we foresee for future projects?
Sprint retro questions to ask during the review phase
The review phase is when your Scrum team looks at all of the data and insights gathered during brainstorming to try and find patterns and discuss solutions. It’s useful during the review phase to use a template or whiteboard to organize action items:
- How can we capitalize on what went right in our next sprint?
- How can we fix what went wrong in our next sprint?
- How can we utilize our strengths better?
- How can we help strengthen our weak areas?
- How do we overcome or avoid these obstacles in the future?
- How can you help your fellow team members?
- What’s the most important lesson you’ll take away from this sprint retrospective?
Questions to ask when closing a sprint retrospective
Typically, the closing is one of the most rewarding parts of any retrospective for the Scrum master. Closing the retrospective is a good time to firm up any actionable insights or action items that your team can walk away with to enhance performance on the next sprint.
As with the other sections, clarity is the name of the game for this phase. If anyone walks away from the meeting with confusion about next steps or something that was said, it can lessen the effectiveness of your retrospective.
To prevent that from happening, consider using these questions during the closing phase:
- Can you reiterate the most important thing you learned today?
- How are you feeling about our next sprint now that we’ve identified these issues?
- Is anyone confused or unclear on any of the items we discussed today?
- Do all of our next steps make sense?
- Are you crystal clear on what action items you are taking away from this sprint retrospective?
Adapt and Adjust
The scrum retrospective questions above can be adjusted to fit almost any style or model you choose. And they should give you a great launch board. But of course, no one knows your team as you do. While these thoughtful retrospective questions are a great start, you may need to adapt them to the vibe of the group.
Consider each of your team members’ personalities and consider what the underlying mood of the project was. For example, you don’t want to ask, “what was the biggest obstacle in this sprint” if the answer is evident (like a member of your team left the company halfway through). You could instead say, “It was tough when our team member left, what obstacles did that place on your role in this project?”
Feel free to copy and paste the list of questions above and tailor them to your next sprint retrospective, and you’ll be off to a great start!