What To Say In Sprint Retrospective Meetings

Are you the Scrum master of your company's sprint team? Well then, this article on what to say in sprint retrospectives is the one for you!

Sprint retrospective meetings are the culmination of everything that transpired during your sprint. Held immediately after the sprint's conclusion, retrospectives offer the chance to review progress, address issues, and assess outcomes.

But, do you know what to say in sprint retrospective meetings? What happens when your team members are uncertain about their participation? In this guide on what to say in sprint retrospectives, we examine the best questions to ask, and why their answers matter.

Our top tips will get the ball rolling in the retrospective process.

What To Say In Sprint Retrospective Meetings

A successful retrospective is more likely when the right questions are asked. Let's look at what to say in sprint retrospective meetings to get them, and keep them, on the right track.

What Questions Should You Ask In A Sprint Retrospective?

When deciding what to say in a sprint retrospective ceremony, make a list of questions beforehand. Don't run the event "off the cuff", as you may overlook important issues.

The questions below are some of the top questions that you should include on your list for every sprint retrospective. These questions are vital to the retrospective process regardless of the nature or duration of the sprint.

Is Everyone Comfortable With This Meeting?

Ask if all the team members are present and if everyone is comfortable with the time and venue. Also, ask if everyone understands what the sprint retrospective entails and if they are happy to participate.

Bear in mind that in any group, there will be extroverts and introverts. However, a sprint retrospective is only a true success if everyone's voice is heard. Even the timidest team members may have valuable contributions to make.

The trick is to establish psychological safety and encourage them to share their thoughts and opinions. This can be done in various ways (more on this later), but make sure that you address this. A sprint retrospective that is not fully inclusive will tell only half the story.

Does Anyone Have Something To Share Before We Begin?

Once you have established that everyone present understands what the sprint retrospective is about and that they are willing to participate, ask if anyone wants to open the floor with a contribution.

Your retrospective won't run as smoothly, or be as helpful as you need, if anyone is sitting there with a serious grievance. Allow them to get their concerns off their chest, and clear the air, before proceeding with the more targeted questions.

Any misunderstandings, misconceptions, and interpersonal conflicts that have led to harbored resentments in the group will reduce the useful elements of the retrospective. Clear these away, if possible, before moving on to the questions that zero in on the sprint itself.

What Would You Say Went Right In This Sprint?

The way you word this question is vital to receiving insightful answers. Merely asking “So, what went right?” may elicit automatic responses the team can unanimously agree on. Or worse still, the answers they think you want to hear.

Because members of your team may be unsure of what to say in sprint retrospective meetings, they will often ignore their instincts and state the obvious. Encourage them to say what they think, to get a more comprehensive picture of the sprint.

To get a more thought-provoking and honest answer, ask “What would you say went right?”

There may be differences in opinion on the aspects that were a success. In these differences, you will learn much more about how the sprint unfolded, and how your team thinks.

Name The Biggest Enablers

It's not enough to know what went right, you need to understand how these successes were achieved. Knowing this will enable you to have greater success next time around.

The biggest enabler may have been specific team members who their teammates came to rely on. It may be a specific skill set that one or more team members have that allows for higher productivity. Or, it could be the software they used to get the project done.

Whatever enabled your team to achieve their goals could be of value in future projects. This will be very helpful when moving on to the planning stage of your next sprint. Because the biggest enablers are usually people, take the time to give credit where it is due.

Praising team members for their brilliant work will motivate them to do even better next time.

What Would You Say Went Wrong?

Once again, when it comes to what to say in sprint retrospective events, it's all in the wording. Ask team members what they think went wrong, as opposed to what the group agrees went wrong.

Again, there may be some consensus. But, differences in opinion will quickly highlight where the sprint went awry. This will be of great value when planning sprints in the future. It is here that you will discover ways to improve the sprint process as a whole.

Interestingly, what some people think went wrong will surprise others. The answers to questions of what went right and wrong can be very subjective. But, if you see that several answers share a common theme, that is what you need to address moving forward.

Name The Biggest Obstacles

Just as the biggest enablers may be useful for upcoming sprints, the biggest obstacles are best avoided. But the reason behind this is the same. To get the best out of every sprint, any obstacles that are preventing progress need to be addressed.

Ask your team to name the causes of what went wrong. Most, except for the most brazen and outspoken in the group, will be reluctant to name names. Assure them that the sprint retrospective is not a blame game. You merely need to get to the bottom of what went wrong so you can address these issues.

Even the obstacles are of great value, in that they pave the way for improvements to the process. If ever at a loss for what to say in sprint retrospective events, be sure that you say the following: “Nobody is personally held responsible for any sprint failures.”

Only actions or inactions may be reviewed, and always in a non-judgemental manner.

What Can We Improve On In Our Next Sprint?

This will be the obvious follow-up question to asking what went wrong. Therefore, when considering what to say in a sprint retrospective event, it is of extreme importance—the reason why is simple.

By taking what went wrong in the latest sprint, and looking at ways to improve the sprint process, your team learns more about how to conduct a successful sprint. And that means that the next sprint is more likely to bear useful fruit in its stipulated timebox.

Also, it encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both of which are musts for any Scrum team.

What To Do When Your Team Is Silent In Meetings?

Now that you know what to say in sprint retrospective meetings to encourage open and honest feedback, let's turn our attention to a common problem: a silent team.

As we said before, some team members are naturally more open and communicative than others. They may dominate the session if left unchecked. But, it is the quieter members you need to consider most. They likely have contributions to make too, and some of these may have a profound impact on the sprint retrospective.

The following tips will help you to coax them out of their shells.

Read The Prime Directive To Prepare Yourself

Many Scrum masters find reading Norm Kerth's Retrospective Prime Directive useful in establishing the right tone for the event from the start.

This can be useful in guiding you to encourage all members towards a lively and successful retrospective ceremony. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with its contents.

Be Clear About What Will Happen In The Retrospective, And Why

A lack of clarity about the reasons for a sprint retrospective, or the way it all "works", may be the problem.

For some of your team members, this will be their first experience with a sprint retrospective. That can be daunting as they are unsure of what is expected of them. Resolve this issue right at the start. Before the retrospective meeting even begins, clearly explain why you are having a retrospective meeting. Discuss what its purpose is, and why it must be conducted so soon after the sprint is finished.

Note That All Members Are Of Value To The Process

Point out that every person's voice will be heard, and that all members have opinions and insights that matter.

Making staff feel valued and appreciated is not only good business practice for any company, but it also makes sprint retrospective participation more likely.

Some sprints are more stressful than others, be it due to time constraints or other interpersonal factors. Reminding the team of their worth gives a confidence boost to anyone still reeling from the toll of a high-stress sprint.

Use Interactive Software To Facilitate Participation

This is especially useful if some of your team are participating remotely. Remote participants may be less vocal because they feel cut off from the physical group.

By using fun and interactive software, participation is both easier and more enjoyable. Ensure that all team members have access to the relevant tools so that everyone can benefit from them.

Implement Games To Break The Ice

Fear of judgment, lack of confidence, or vulnerability issues may be at the heart of your team's silence. Break the ice and put them at ease with a short game.

This can get a sprint retrospective event off to a good start and is especially useful after a stressful and less successful sprint. But it serves another, deeper purpose too.

Sprints are built on the foundation of teamwork in a dedicated time window. During game time, you will quickly see who your team players are, and who works best solo. This alone can indirectly answer some of the questions we discussed earlier.

Introduce Roleplay

Unlike the icebreaker game, the purpose of this roleplay is to allow the group to see the sprint outcomes from a whole new perspective.

Let teammates take turns playing the leader and asking their questions of the group. You may discover things you hadn't thought to ask about, and it can affect the direction your retrospective takes.

Use a timer set to 2 or 3 minutes for each member to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance. It will also prevent members from going too off-topic if they know that they have a defined window to lead.

Allow Anonymity

Despite your best efforts, fear of judgment or reprisal will still cause some team members to hold back. This can easily be overcome by allowing anonymity.

So, if members are struggling with what to say in sprint retrospective meetings, explain that specific questions may be asked and answered anonymously.

Fortunately, this is not difficult to do. Provide all attendees with notelets and pens for writing down their responses (or questions). Allow them to fold up these notelets with their comments and place them in a box in the center of the table. Access the contents once they're all in the box, and discuss them.

Final Thoughts

Knowing what to say in sprint retrospective meetings is the key to unlocking team potential. It can mean the difference between a quiet and uneventful process and an engaging and productive ceremony.

The sprint retrospective event is a vital part of the sprint process. It allows all team members to make their voices heard and can offer deep insights into the success (or otherwise) of a sprint. It's also a learning opportunity, as these insights can be used to make future sprints more efficient.

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