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Emily Colman
Sept. 11, 2020

4 ways to get real value from your sprint retros

Hand drawn green, red and yellow speech bubbles with thumbs up and down. Like, dislike and undecided icons in sketchy style. Pointing gesture hands. Feedback concept. Credit:Mashot

Hand drawn green, red and yellow speech bubbles with thumbs up and down. Like, dislike and undecided icons in sketchy style. Pointing gesture hands. Feedback concept. Credit: Mashot

I’m a big fan of a good team retro and have been since I first started working in service delivery

Taking an hour to let everyone in your team reflect on the delivery of work, and where you could share your opinion on what had gone well - or what maybe didn’t go as well as you’d hoped - was a revelation. 

Perhaps most importantly, the rest of the team valued your opinion and with the purpose of a retro, made a plan to action improvements going forward. 

At Difrent, we have people that work across various projects and services, within many teams and squads, all carrying out retros after every completed sprint. 

After a brief chat with our team about the value of retros and how we do them, I’ve pulled together a handful of approaches to run effective sprint retrospectives, from the different opinions of people who have many years of experience in taking part and hosting them.

1) Test tools and approaches that best suit your team’s needs

As a content designer working with two different teams, I’m currently taking part in two different retros every two weeks. 

We’re all working remotely at the moment, so we’ve increasingly needed the support of online tools. 

Tools like have allowed us the opportunity to keep doing retros.  

However, there are still differences between the two teams in how we use funretro:

“Personally, I’m a fan of the engines and anchors approach and agreeing as a team on making a couple of improvements to the next sprint/week/whenever based on dot voting of improvements suggested.”

• Both examples (pictured) more or less give some space to let the team note down the good and bad aspects but most importantly in the third column, they get the opportunity to address what might not have gone so well.  

• We usually spend approximately 10 minutes each on the first two categories to allow people to contribute.

• We then get people to vote on what they feel is most important to discuss, to get a sense of how important a topic is for the whole team, while grouping comments according to common themes.

• The next step is to discuss the topics with the most votes - if you’ve only got an hour for example, then it’s best to focus on topics with the most votes because essentially that’s what your team feels most strongly about.  

And here’s the most important part - Define your actions after discussing your good and bad points.

Ask people to follow up on these actions and check this has happened at the next retro you hold. 

You could even add in an extra column if there are questions your team doesn’t yet know the answer to. 

Emily blog retro image 1

Again, this is just one example of many ways a retrospective can be done.

Emily blog retro 2

“All teams are going to be different depending on personalities, size, culture etc. I do like the voting method and the ability to contribute anonymously! I've been in retros (in previous roles) where everyone would stick their name on a post-it along with their comment. I guess for ownership or something?”

2) Power to your people 

You might be asking why a content designer is talking about how to run a good retro - but that’s the point. 

It’s good practice to let everyone take their turn in leading one - not just your colleagues that are known as leads, managers or scrum masters. 

Not only does that give the more introverted members of your team a chance to grow their own voice and confidence (more about that below), it can build trust and openness within your team and promote a real sense of inclusiveness. 

“Getting the quieter, more introverted people in your team to contribute effectively to retros if they want to or not. Sometimes trust needs to be built within a team so that a retro is fully understood by all as a 'safe space' for airing suggestions and thoughts.”

You’ll probably find that not everyone wants to talk about points they’ve made - and that’s totally fine too. Sometimes people just like to vent. 

The team’s attention should be on actions for improvement, rather than nitpicking at a comment that not everyone might agree on. 

3) Size really isn’t everything 

“One of the maddest retrospective sessions I’ve ever witnessed had loads of people, a billion areas for improvement, and no agreement on which ones were more important to the team than others, which made me wonder “will they ever implement these improvements?”

Don’t run the risk of allowing too many people to attend one retro. 

If the meeting gets too big - not everyone will get the chance to contribute, only the louder voices will be heard and the inevitable bias will happen when deciding what’s more important to discuss. 

“I think in a larger team situation retros have to be much more structured. Sub teams should have their own autonomous retros, and retros with a larger group of people will almost certainly have to have the scope agreed upfront. Otherwise, it's almost inevitably going to end up as a futile exercise in ocean boiling.”

Is it a sprint retro of a project or a lessons learned session

4) Value

“Retro’s eh. Often held, less often actioned.”

A retro can be one of the most enjoyable ceremonies for a team and can be key to improving your team’s productivity - however, sometimes you might not be getting enough value from holding one. 

“ Sometimes people just need some space to decompress. Other times, they just become another expensive ceremony just for the sake of it (in which case, hold them less frequently until you get some value out of them.)” 

I suggest that you ask yourself the following questions:

What have been your most effective retrospective sessions and how have you ensured that improvements highlighted are implemented and make a positive impact?

Are you facilitating retros, and how are you finding this if you’re doing it remotely? 

What tools are you using? 

How are you setting out your time, and are you finding that your actions are being followed through? 

Do you find that retros are more effective if your team is well-bonded and does this depend on the style of the retrospective according to team dynamics?  

Of course, the above 4 points are just a starter list on running effective sprint retros. It's all about finding value in your team's work and your team's time.

We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Drop us a Tweet @BeDifrent

Written by Emily Colman - Content Designer @ Difrent

Twitter: @emsico



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