The Sprint Retrospective is a key meeting where the team discusses how to improve. Like the other meetings in Scrum, the ScrumMaster is responsible for ensuring it occurs and that it is well-facilitated. There are three main purposes of the Sprint Retrospective: honestly review how the last Sprint was conducted in all aspects including skills, relationships, processes, environment, culture and tools; discover the key aspects of the previous Sprint that need to be carried forward or improved; and, plan how the Scrum Team will improve the way it does work. This meeting aids the team in inspecting and adapting the entire use of Scrum and how the team is progressing as a team. The Sprint Retrospective is a check point that helps the team to know its current state, compare to its desired state, identify gaps, and take the needed steps to improve. This meeting is also where the ScrumMaster challenges the team to look deeply at itself and its process without fear. When a Scrum Team fails to hold and participate in this essential meeting, the team is likely to become a Scrum Team in name only without the spirit of Scrum – and therefore lose many of the far reaching benefits that many other Scrum Teams have experienced.
To learn more about using retrospective to help your team improve its processes and teamwork, visit the Scrum Team Assessment.
The Sprint Retrospective meeting supports the Scrum value of Openness and the principle of inspect and adapt. This rule of Scrum also aligns with the Agile Manifesto principles “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” In-person attendance of all Scrum Team members allows for the fullest level of openness among Team Members which in turn is necessary to use the Retrospective to find improvements in how the team functions. If even one team member attempts to attend this meeting by any other means, either by phone or even video conferencing, efficiency and effectiveness of the openness and inspect and adapt becomes compromised. Compromise on these principles yields compromised collective ownership of improvement efforts. Lack of in-person participation increases the likelihood that the team will fail to implement improvements because the openness and inspect and adapt will lack effectiveness. This, in turn, hinders the team from reaching a high-performance state.
After a team finishes its Sprint Review, the Retrospective meeting should begin immediately. Of course, there may be a small transition period as non-team members leave a meeting room or as the Team Members go back to their team room. However, there should be no work on the system done between Sprint Review and Retrospective. This quick transition between the two meetings is primarily to ensure that everyone has a clear memory of the Sprint. If there is a gap between the two meetings it can lead to a number of sub-optimal behaviours: team members may do work without the knowledge of the rest of the team, there may be a growing desire to delay the retrospective, or even pressure to skip the retrospective.
Timeboxing is the practice of ending a meeting exactly on time regardless of the state of discussion or the desire of participants. In Scrum, the combined length of the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings is determined by the length of the Sprint. For example, a one week long Sprint has Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings that are timeboxed to two hours in total. It is acceptable for the meetings to take less time, but not more. A two week long Sprint has a Sprint Planning Meeting that is timeboxed to four hours. Keeping the Sprint Review and Retrospective Meetings timeboxed has two beneficial effects: one, the team keeps the overhead dedicated to meetings to a relatively low level, and two, the team learns to do effective inspect and adapt in a very short period of time. If the meetings are not timeboxed, then typically the team will keep going until they are “done”… and break the timebox of the overall Sprint.
The last part of the Sprint is the Sprint Retrospective. This meeting is a private meeting for the members of the Scrum Team (including the ScrumMaster and Product Owner). In this meeting, the Team Members discuss how they did their work during the past Sprint and come up with ways to improve their work in the next Sprint. Scrum does not define any particular techniques to use during the Retrospective meeting. The Retrospective is complementary to the Sprint Review. The Review inspects “what” was done and the Retrospective inspects “how” it was done. The Sprint Retrospective is critical for the team to apply the principle of “inspect and adapt” that is core to Scrum. Missing the Sprint Retrospective is a critical failure of the ScrumMaster’s job to ensure that the principles of Scrum are being used. If a Retrospective is missed once, what may happen is that some Team Members might feel that missing it was not so bad. There will not likely be any immediate consequences to missing the Retrospective. However, the attitude that the Retrospective is not important will be implanted in the team. This then quickly leads to further compromises and eventually, the continuous improvement parts of Scrum are abandoned and the team focuses purely on the execution parts of Scrum. The team will then fail to become a high-performance team since that high-performance state is predicated on systematic, conscious self-improvement of how the team does its work.