How To Facilitate A Sprint Retrospective (Ultimate Guide)

Understanding how to facilitate a sprint retrospective is crucial for any project under the Scrum framework. A great retrospective can hugely benefit the outcome of future sprints.

If you run a retrospective correctly, team members will be motivated to perform their duties effectively. The project is more likely to run like a well-oiled machine and be successful.

Badly run retrospectives can reduce team morale, undermine progress, and come across as a chore

In this article, we discuss how to facilitate a sprint retrospective in a way that leads to high-quality sprint outputs. Read on for insights into facilitating an engaging and useful sprint retrospective!

Why Is A Sprint Retrospective So Important?

Sprint retrospectives can positively impact future sprints, and are not to be underestimated as a tool for aligning team members with the same vision and process.

Before we discuss how to facilitate a sprint retrospective, let's briefly look into why these meetings are essential.

Sustained Productivity

Effective sprint retrospectives promote sustained productivity. Team members can identify ways to improve their processes and increase productivity in every project cycle or sprint.

Team Collaboration

Members work together to reflect on the previous sprint and discuss solutions for things that didn't go well. In the process, they learn how to collaborate better and lay the foundation for the next sprint.

Identifies Potential Risks

The meeting allows members to identify potential risks that can hinder product development. Team members can then find ways to avoid these risks and ensure everything goes smoothly.

Helps Resolve Conflicts

Conflicts may arise between members of different teams. For instance, the developers might need help from the design or the quality assurance team.

If left unchecked, these conflicts can negatively affect the product development process and reduce the quality of the end product.

Sprint retrospectives provide a safe space for members to discuss and resolve conflicts. But, you must know how to facilitate a sprint retrospective meeting correctly for this to happen.

Helps Monitor Project

These sessions can help you, and thus other stakeholders, monitor the progress of the project. Retrospectives are held at the end of each sprint when team members have feedback on the previous sprint fresh in their minds. You'll see what the team thinks of other members' efforts, and how the project is going as a whole.

Listening to this feedback will help you understand the project's progress. From this feedback, you can help the team integrate new ideas into their process.

How To Facilitate A Sprint Retrospective

The main difference between a productive sprint retrospective and an unproductive one is the quality and structure of discussions during the meeting.

In a productive retrospective meeting, team members provide honest and constructive feedback. They offer insights that help move the project forward.

As a facilitator, your goal is to guide the team toward having value-driven conversations from the beginning of the meeting to the end. How you do this may vary depending on the team and the project.

There are several steps that you can take before and during the retrospective meeting to ensure it succeeds. Let's dive in!

Before The Meeting

In preparation for the meeting, our first tip is simple: plan.

Proper planning is essential to running an effective sprint retrospective. Create a general structure that you can follow to facilitate the meeting in a way that boosts engagement.

Without good planning, team members might engage in unproductive or unnecessary conversations, which will simply take up time. Good planning will ensure that your meeting covers all of the needed information, and stays within the time limit.

Let's discuss how to plan effectively.

Step 1: Set An Agenda

Set the agenda of the meeting in advance. Share it with all team members (all of whom should attend the retrospective session). This will give members ample time to prepare.

Step 2: Choose A Method

Select the retrospective model you'll use to achieve the agenda you've set for the meeting. Try to be creative and tailor the meeting to the needs of your team. There are several sprint retrospective formats. Each format can change how you facilitate the sprint retrospective.

You can use different models for different phases of the meeting. Or, combine parts of different models to design your own. It's your show, run it as such! After all, you know your team the best.

Step 3: Gather Your Tools

Once you've selected or created the model you'll use, gather all the tools and resources you'll need for implementation. There are tools almost all in-person meetings need, such as sticky notes, pens, and boards.

During the meeting

To facilitate a great sprint retrospective, you need a clear structure that the whole team is aware of. A team that is on the same page, and has the same expectations for the meeting, is more likely to engage in the meeting.

Although sprint retrospectives can take many different forms, the following structure is a great starting point.

1. Reflection

This phase is critical to the success of the meeting because it sets the pace for the rest of the stages.

Here, members get an opportunity to reflect on the previous sprint. You should make sure each team member feels comfortable sharing their feedback.

Here are a few tips you can use to set the right tone for a good sprint retrospective.

Use An Icebreaker

Icebreakers are great for starting conversations in group settings. They help put team members at ease and can get them to start talking. Make sure to use the right icebreaker for team members to start interacting productively.

The best icebreaker for a sprint retrospective should capture members' interests and encourage them to express themselves freely. A great idea is to ask the whole group some interesting questions. Note that these questions should be inclusive!

Here are some good icebreaker questions for a productive sprint retrospective:

  • Which holiday destination would you like to visit most, and why?
  • What's one thing you were surprised to learn about recently?

Ensure you're first to respond to any icebreaker questions you ask to demonstrate how the team should do it. This makes the members feel safe to share their responses too.

It also creates the stage for you to set the ground rules that'll guide the conversation moving forward in a fun way.

Keep It Anonymous

Once members start expressing themselves through the icebreaker questions, begin the reflection exercise. Share statements or questions to guide the reflective exercise using your chosen retrospective model.

Suppose you chose to use the "what went well" model. You can ask members to share their thoughts on what went well, what didn't, and what to improve.

It's best to encourage members to do this anonymously. You'll get better feedback this way, especially if the team is new and members are still getting to know each other. You want to get as much feedback as possible!

2. Group Work

Give each member a sticky note to write down their thoughts. Then, divide up a board into sections, and place the sticky notes in the appropriate sections. The goal of this phase is to group similar ideas and identify themes for later discussion.

For all team members to remain engaged, the grouping exercise must include everyone. Your role as a facilitator is to guide the grouping exercise, but the team should decide which note goes with which theme.

For example, you might read a member's opinions on what didn't go well out loud, then let the team direct you to where to place the sticky note. By the end of this phase, you'll have each of the initial three sections divided into sub-sections with different themes.

The "what didn't go well" section, for instance, might have several patterns or themes such as the following:

  • User stories & user experience concerns.
  • Non-designers concerns.
  • Coding concerns.
  • Quality control & testing concerns.

Each theme contains a few concerns members need to discuss and sort out before proceeding to the next sprint.

3. Vote

During this phase, members vote to prioritize the themes for discussion.

As a facilitator, you won't have much say in this phase, just like in the grouping phase. It's all up to the team to decide what they'd like to discuss first.

Read each theme out loud, including all the issues of concern under the topic. Then, allow each member to vote and present their reason for voting a certain way. All team members should agree on the final list.

In most cases, you'll find the team agreeing on the aspects that went well. This is a perfect opportunity for members to appreciate and encourage each other while providing insight on things they should continue doing.

By the end of this phase, you should have a list of items all members are ready to discuss.

4. Discussion

The discussion phase is important in facilitating retrospectives properly.

Your aim in this phase is to guide the team to have fruitful conversations that lead them to a shared understanding.

Listen to all team members actively, and recap what they are saying to confirm all participants understand each other.

It's easy for some members to zone out during this phase. You can make things fun and ensure every member shares their opinion by introducing discussion games.

Research shows that turning regular activities into games improves the entire development process by addressing several problems, including:

  • Poor communication among team members.
  • Lack of motivation.
  • Boredom with work.
  • Inadequate team coordination and collaboration.

An example of a game you can use is the constellation game. This is the structure:

  1. Place a piece of furniture at the center of the room to mimic the center of the solar system.
  2. Read the issues for discussion as indicated on the priority list.
  3. Team members will move either close to the middle or further away, depending on their position regarding the matter at hand.

Allow members enough time to contribute to the discussion. Also, assign various team members the facilitator role during different themes to keep the team engaged.

Leaders can also guide the conversations to identify potential risks within their respective departments. Stay alert and record all the essential points that team members raise during this phase. The result of this phase is practical solutions to the issues that came up in the reflection phase.

5. Action Items

Assigning action items to relevant teams ensures the solutions you find above get implemented.

Teams may carry out sprint retrospectives well but forget to assign specific action items to different team members.

If this step is forgotten, all solutions and insights that members share during the meeting will not get implemented. This means the product development process won't improve as it should after every sprint.

Remember that you don't want members to feel they're getting additional work without asking for it. It could discourage them and prevent them from performing their regular duties effectively. Instead, help the team members break down all the solutions into small, easy-to-implement tasks. Then, ask the relevant team to volunteer to take them up.

The tasks could be anything from writing a proposal outline for an additional follow-up meeting to asking for more feedback from relevant parties.

Remember, some tasks belong to specific members. Updating the project's product backlog to accommodate members' suggestions after a retrospective event, for instance, is the product owner's task.

Final Thoughts

Generally, sprint retrospectives allow teams to self-inspect, repair, and streamline the product development process. But, this can only happen if the meeting is exciting and productive.

Because almost all agile frameworks provide little guidance on how to facilitate a sprint retrospective meeting, most facilitators run the retrospective meetings mechanically. This can lead to team members not feeling engaged in the session.

We hope this guide has given you ideas on how to facilitate a sprint retrospective productively. This way, all members can enjoy the sessions and look forward to the next sprint.

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