A sprint retrospective is, in practice, a meeting scheduled after every 1-2 sprints in which the team comes together to discuss how to improve the way they work. The meeting can follow several formats, with the most common consisting of each team member sharing what is working well, what isn’t working, and any new ideas they have to improve. Some examples of takeaways from the meeting might be “Our daily standup is helping to keep everyone on track,” “We need a better process for reviewing tickets after QA is finished with them,” or “Let’s try estimating with story points instead of time values.”
Retrospectives were introduced to make sure the team is constantly in communication about how to improve. This process is commonly known as a feedback loop, and is one of the hallmarks of any good Agile process. Feedback loops have been discussed as one of the most important parts to becoming successful, either as a team or as an individual, a claim backed up by copious amounts of business literature full of research and examples on the topic. A prime example of this can be found in Talent is Overrated by Geoff Collins. While not a perfect book by any means, Collins does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of feedback loops. The argument posits that the way humans improve at anything is to do the thing, look back on the thing and analyze it, figure out how to improve performance of the thing, then do the thing again. The retrospective helps teams to do the middle two parts of that process.
Here are some tips for running a successful sprint retrospective:
Get on a consistent cadence
Doing retrospectives too often will lead the team to resent them. Doing them not often enough will greatly reduce efficacy and result in an inability to put into action the ideas brought up in the meeting.
Prepare ahead of time
Before the meeting, encourage team members to spend a half hour thinking of what is working well, what isn’t working so well, and ways to improve. That way the team can most efficiently use everyone’s time when they come together for the retrospective.
Bite off what you can chew
Instead of trying to implement all the new ideas after every retrospective, focus on determining which ideas are the quick hitters: those that have a big impact, but are easy and quick to implement. By adding the one or two best quick hitters each week, the process will evolve at a sustainable pace. Over time, the team will likely run out of quick hitters, giving you a chance to implement the more intricate ideas.
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