· 7 min read ·
Retrospective means “looking back”. It’s a time to contemplate what has happened. In software engineering sprint retrospective forms an important part of the software development lifecycle. It’s origins can be traced back to the last principle of the agile manifesto which states the following:
“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
A sprint retrospective meeting is an opportunity for the team to come together and reflect on what has happened in the past few weeks. The goal of the sprint retrospective is to find answers to some fundamental questions. It helps assess the overall health of the team and how well it’s working together as a cohesive unit.
The goal of the sprint retrospective is to get a better understanding of the following questions
What went well?
You look at how you did working on your tasks individually and with other teammates. What did you like about the experience? For example- did you get stuck somewhere and a teammate helped you get unstuck again and complete your work in time.
What didn’t go well?
Was there anything that happened during the sprint that made your life difficult? For example - Did the requirements change while you were working on a ticket? Or was the information in the ticket incomplete? Were you blocked because of dependency on work someone else was doing?
How can we improve?
Is there any way that we can improve and fix the things that didn’t go well ? For example- Should tickets be broken down into smaller chunks? Is the backend and frontend is being done by different people? Should they work together to make sure that one is not left waiting for the other to complete the work?
Overtime you will realize that it’s not always as simple as putting out the questions. Gathering feedback is an art. You have to be aware of the internal dynamics of the team. For example:
There are different formats that have developed overtime to help with these situations. They help discover what people really want to say and bring about positive change. We will look at some of the common sprint retrospective frameworks in a later section of this blog.
It is only when you learn from your past that you can improve your future otherwise you will see no progress. Incremental improvements based on what you learn through your experiences leads to measurable impact overtime.
There are several benefits of the sprint retrospective meetings.
Reviewing with the team how things are going goes a long way in making them more effective. When everyone is part of the process and their voices are heard they are more responsive to change. Everything in a sprint retrospective is discussed in front of the entire team. All the take-aways and action items are tracked and are accessible to the team
The team decides together which things it needs to fix first. The priority is set by voting on different items to stack rank what is most important and then having a qualitative discussion on them. This helps build a culture of teamwork where everyone is working together to improve the process. You get to hear the different points of view your teammates have and how they perceive things. In the long run it helps you better understand the different personalities in the team. You can then find out the best way to maintain a healthy working relationship with them that makes the team more effective.
A sprint retrospective is successful because everyone feels safe to share their views. They believe that their views however contrary will not be held against them. The sprint retrospective focuses on the process and not the person.
The goal of the sprint retrospective is to bring about incremental improvements. In order to do this action items are identified at the end of each meeting. Ownership of the action items along with delivery dates is also marked so that it can be tracked and does not fall between the tracks.
The views shared by everyone might vastly differ but overtime you will see certain themes emerge. For example: if you constantly hear that the requirements changed mid sprint then you know that there is a problem that needs fixing 🛠
Members of the team that worked on the product update are the regular participants of your sprint retrospective meeting. This include:
Besides the “regulars”, retrospective meetings often see guest appearances. They can be anyone from the company who is invested in the project. Designers, Data Analysts and Marketing Managers often join these meetings and provide a unique perspective to the team.
The Product Manager and the Engineering Manager often run the sprint retrospective meetings. Once the team is settled into a comfortable cadence and is familiar on how to run it then the baton of leading the sprint retrospective can be passed to different people in the team. This has a number of advantages:
The team gets together on a regular basis to discuss how things are going. It is a good idea to start the retrospective with ice breaker questions especially with a new team. It helps everyone feel a bit more comfortable and at ease. This is followed by each member providing their insights on how things went in the past few weeks. There are different ways you can do this.
Each team needs to find out what works for them. It is common for teams to hold retrospective meetings after the end of each sprint. But that might not work for you if you run very short sprints. Start with a frequency that you think might work. Overtime you will be able to figure out if you are meeting too often or too less. Two possible scenarios can occur
There are a lot of different ways you can run a Sprint Retrospective Meeting. Here is a list of popular formats that you can pick from and find the ones that work best for your team.
The focus of this blog is to give an overview of Sprint Retrospective so we won’t dive into each of the formats here. We are writing blogs that go over each of them for you to go over.
Have you heard about the phrase “meeting to discuss another meeting” 🤣 🤣 . Might sound like a waste of time but it’s important to find out whether a retrospective is working for you. It does not mean that the entire team needs to meet. Try finding answers to the following questions to gauge the effectiveness of your sprint retrospective:
You have to get both qualitative and quantitative feedback from the team to be able to answer the above questions. It doesn’t need to be a formal survey. You can just go and talk to people and ask them what they think.
Doing this helps you improve the quality and efficiency of your Retrospective Meeting.