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5 steps of a retrospective meeting agenda

In the past, we’ve explored what sprint retrospectives are and why they matter to your business. Knowing that they’re important is just the first step though. Next you need to know how to plan and manage them — and what to put on the meeting agenda.

So today, that’s exactly what we’re going to cover! In the five steps below, you’ll not only learn how to structure a sprint retrospective agenda, but also which tips and activities will help you make the most of the meeting.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Set the stage

Everyone has entered the room, said their hellos, and is taking a seat. Now the spotlight’s all on you — what’s your first move?

The first step in any sprint retrospective is setting the stage. This is of critical importance in your first retrospective, but shouldn’t be overlooked in any other retrospective meetings either.

By setting the stage, you establish yourself as the guide of the event. You should begin by letting everyone know what the goal of the meeting is, what the expectations are, and by helping people to feel comfortable with opening up.

Tip: Set the tone and rules

As a scrum master, you want to encourage freeform expression and allow ideas to surface. But you want to keep your agenda in order, too. Retrospective meetings aren’t blue-sky innovation sessions and they aren’t free-for-all therapy sessions either: you have a set itinerary of points to cover and you don’t want to fall behind. How do you get this balance right? It starts with setting the tone and establishing the rules.

These rules will vary by team, but the general idea is to avoid finger-pointing, excessive negativity, and to keep everything focused on your objective. After all, you only have so much time to dedicate to this meeting, and you want it to be productive.

Activity: One word check-in

The one word check-in is a fast and fun way to open your retrospective meeting agenda. If it’s your first retrospective, you might start with something simple like, “How are you feeling today?” or, “How was your weekend?” As time goes on, you might ask questions that require a little more thought, such as, “What’s your intention for this meeting?” or “How would you describe the productivity of our last sprint?”.

Step 2: Gather data

Step 2 of your retrospective agenda is typically where the whiteboard comes into play. It is also where you, as the meeting leader, take a backseat and let your team hold the discussion.

During this step, you’ll pose questions to your team regarding the sprint or milestone that has just come to an end. For instance, you might ask questions like:

  • What did you think of that achievement/process?
  • What were you most proud of?
  • Was there anything that disappointed you?
  • What did you learn?

Write down these answers on the whiteboard and draw attention to any that become repeating themes.

Tip: Is everyone participating?

While you won’t be speaking as much during this step, you will still need to be playing an active role as the leader. Part of this responsibility is ensuring that everyone is participating. Otherwise, the data you gather might be skewed or incomplete.

Noticing if someone isn’t contributing to the discussion is only half the battle. You also need to determine why. Is it because they’re being talked over, or because they’re not paying attention? Are they feeling shy, or did they have a bad sprint?

You can solve this problem by gently guiding the conversation. Limit any speakers that are too talkative, and make a point of asking questions to quieter members.

Activity: Rose, Bud, Thorn

A great way to get your team to open up about their experiences over the last sprint is with the Rose, Bud, Thorn activity. It’s a fairly straightforward game and one that will ensure you get an even mix of feedback.

To play, simply ask each participant to cite one Rose, one Bud, and one Thorn from the previous sprint. Roses are anything a person enjoyed over the process (e.g., they learnt a new skill). Buds are anything that a person sees as an area of improvement or opportunity for the next sprint (e.g., they came up with a new way to manage variables). Thorns are anything that they didn’t enjoy during the sprint (e.g., their code was scrapped).

Team brainstorm

Step 3: Brainstorm

Another word for this step could be “Analyze”. Here, you break down the data you gathered in the previous step, starting with data that was trending or emphasized.

In other words, this is the beginning of your team’s critical thinking. You’re no longer just bringing up points, but dissecting those points and trying to make sense of them.

Tip: Criticize with care

During this step, you (and your team) will have to start looking more critically at your successes and failures during this sprint. There’s no avoiding the uncomfortable truths at this point of the retrospective agenda.

However, this is not a feeding frenzy. Your team should still feel safe and confident in the discussion. When blame starts being assigned and people are singled out for their mistakes, you risk creating animosity among team members, stifling ideas, and hurting your more sensitive players, too.

You can avoid these outcomes by focusing on setting the right tone in Step 1 and by mediating this process. Make sure that failures and successes get just as much screen time as one another, and keep all criticism constructive.

Activity: 5 Whys

Like most of the activities in this post, 5 Whys couldn’t be much simpler than it sounds. You simply pick one of the points brought up on your whiteboard and ask, “Why?” five times.

For instance, if your team missed a deadline, you might ask, “Why did we miss that deadline?” If the answer is, “Because we didn’t communicate enough,” then you would respond, “Why didn’t we communicate enough?” This goes on five times in a row.

You don’t want to do this for every point; maybe limit it to just two or three points during the discussion. When you do use it, however, you’ll find that it forces you to get to the root of an issue or success, allowing you to better understand that situation — and avoid it in the future.

Step 4: Create action items

After you’ve finished breaking down your data, it’s time to turn your insights into actionable steps. Your whiteboard should be pretty full at this point, so choose the items that you can realistically achieve by the end of your next sprint.

For specific tasks, you might assign them to team members based on who is best equipped for the job. For more abstract actions, like “Use Slack more often,” try to come up with an honor system to ensure that members are reminded of this as they go through the next sprint.

Tip: Keep it organized

This can easily turn into the most hectic part of the meeting agenda. Members might be throwing out too many ideas, getting stuck on tangents, or might simply be overwhelmed by the amount of information in front of them.

This is the point where you will want to take on a firmer, more organized role in the discussion. Avoid the temptation to sit back and let the discussion become a free-for-all. Instead, point to who can speak, limit the number of ideas and solutions people can vote on, and do your best to keep things focused.

Activity: Hypotheses and experiments

Having too many ideas at this stage is a possibility. But also is having too few. After all, you’ve already been in the room for a reasonable amount of time now. Energy levels may be dropping. Your participants are looking forward to lunch. To help breathe fresh life into the retrospective meeting agenda, you can rephrase this step as hypotheses and experiments.

This means that instead of asking your team to say, “Let’s do this,” have them say, “What if we tried…?” or, “I don’t know if this will work, but I’d like to give it a try.” This can go a long way towards diffusing the tension of this step. It also acknowledges the possibility — and acceptance — of failure, which is important, especially as a leader.

Step 5: Close the retrospective

With your chosen action items written down, it’s time to close your sprint retrospective. This is one of the only points where you should completely take over as a leader and guide the meeting with totality. Have your agenda in mind and wrap the meeting up as neatly as possible.

In Step 5 of the sprint retrospective agenda, you should recap the key points shared and reaffirm the action items to be worked on. You might also come up with a way to measure the goals you set in this retrospective so that you can track your progress in the next.

Set your next retrospective agenda with confidence

By using this five-step process, you can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your retrospective. You’ll have an easier time generating discussion, executing ideas, and monitoring results.

And if you feel like your retrospectives could use a little more support, you can check out the retrospective services offered here at EasyRetro.

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