Agile Retrospective Meetings – Why It is Necessary and Some Fun Ways to Conduct It

Agile Software development is  a set of methods and practices that are based on the Agile Manifesto. Agile methodology emphasizes team collaboration and frequent delivery of a product.

One of the 12 principles listed in the in Agile Manifesto is:

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

This principle is incorporated in an agile team in the form of Agile Retrospective meetings.

In this article, we will talk more about retrospective meetings, their purpose and some fun ways to conduct these meetings.

scrum-retrospective

Recommended read => 6 Most Common Reasons You Should Adopt Agile in Your Organization

Definition and Purpose of Retrospective Meetings

By definition retrospective means “looking back or dealing with past events or situations”.

True to definition, retrospective meetings are intended to reflect on the most recent sprint/project/milestone and identify areas that need improvement and celebrate team wins.

This ties into the concept of Continuous improvement where teams get together to discuss the areas that the team did well and the areas that the team needs to work together to improve for the next sprint/project/milestone.

Also read => How to Improve Software Quality Using Continuous Integration Process

Conducting Retrospective Meetings

Retrospective meetings can be held at various stages during the project:

  • Retrospective meetings can be scheduled towards the closing days of a sprint and before the next sprint is started to reflect on the most recent sprint
  • To review a specific problematic scenario
  • At a milestone to reflect on the status thus far

Agile Retrospective Steps

Any retrospective meeting will involve the following steps:

agile-retrospective-steps

  • Set Stage – Organize meeting – Involves setting up of the meeting by the facilitator (PM., scrum master, etc.) and sending a meeting invitation to all the required team members and stakeholders.
  • Gather Data – Once the meeting starts, gather all the ideas, opinions, concerns that the team members might have. This can be done via various agile retrospective activities like Start, Stop, and Continue, Paint Me picture etc.
  • Generate Insights – After the data is gathered, meaningful analytics have to be identified and patterns have to be created. The idea is to identify trends and resolve them. E.g. if the team members are unhappy about the long daily stand-ups then we have to figure out what is causing this. It could be unrelated discussions, the tardiness of the team members, unrealistic time set up that does not accommodate the number of updates, etc.
  • Create Actions – Once the underlying issues are identified, create action points to resolve them. Action points should be assigned to an accountable person(s) who will be responsible to resolve it by the decided due date.
  • Wrap Up – Thank the team for their time and for their participation. Make sure that the meeting discussion and action points are documented and circulated to the team members for easy reference.

Agile Retrospective Meeting Formats, Ideas, and Activities

#1) What went well, What should have been done better, Action items

The team members meet and discuss what the team did well, what the team needs to improve, lessons learned and the action points corresponding to improvement areas.

These actions are assigned to an accountable team member. This discussion is documented and circulated to all after the meeting or can be saved on shared drive/intranet for easy access.

JIRA has an inbuilt sprint retrospective template for retrospective meeting based on this exact format as shown below:

agile-retrospective-meeting-formats-ideas-and-activities

(Source: http://blogs.atlassian.com/)

#2) Start , Stop and Continue Meeting

In this meeting the team members are asked to provide opinions about what the team should start doing, stop doing and continue doing in the sprints.

This method is very popular and effective, especially for new teams.

  • Start items would be something that the team would like to add to their process e.g. Start coming on time for project meetings.
  • Stop items would be something that the team no longer wants to do e.g. stop checking in code without code review.
  • Continue items will be something team wants to continue doing in future e.g. Continue having daily stand-ups.

The meeting facilitator can set a minimum and maximum limit of a number of items a team member can propose. E.g. Every team member needs to provide 1 item each for Start, Stop, and Continue list and can provide a maximum of 3 items per type.

Additionally, once the complete list is compiled, team members can be asked to vote to narrow down the most important items.

start-stop-and-continue-meeting

#3) 5 ‘Why’ format Meeting


This meeting format is based on asking follow up ‘Why’ Questions across team members.

This meeting format is used to find underlying causes for a problematic scenario (symptom), and where the causes may not be obvious.

The goal is not to solve the problem but to understand the situation and possibly narrow down the root cause.

Each team member creates a chain of reasons due to which why they think the issue is occurring. Once the list is ready, the answers can be consolidated into a single chain representing the opinion reached by a common consensus of the group.

This works best for small teams with sizes i.e. 3-5 members.

For example:

Problem: Quality of product was not good.
Question: Why?
Reason 1: Unstable build.
Question: Why?
Reason: No process enforcement- No code freeze.
Question: Why?
Reason: Scope change
Question: Why?
Reason: Impact not identified during project planning

example

#4) Mad , Sad, Glad

In this meeting format, team member takes some time (5-10 minutes) to write down sticky notes for each of the emotions – Mad, Sad, and Glad .

  • ‘Mad’ tends to focus on an obstructions, barriers etc.
  • ‘Sad’ tends to focus on internal issues and
  • ‘Glad’ tends to focus on something the team member is happy about.

After the time is up, the sticky notes are grouped based on emotions. Then the Mad and Sad issues are voted to prioritize them for creating an action item.

#5) Draw me a picture

This technique is a non-verbal retrospective technique.

In this meeting format, team members are given few minutes to collect their thoughts and express their feelings and opinions.

This meeting is a good format for conducting retrospectives where verbal communications within a team are failing, it acts as an ice breaker between team members.

draw-me-a-picture

(Source: https://www.agilealliance.org)

#6) Circle Celebration

This technique captures feedback using Pluses and Deltas i.e. what worked well, what could have been better).

In this, the team members gather to form a circle. One team member starts and throws a throw-able soft object (plush toy, stress balls) toward any other member.

Idea is that whoever has the ball would answer 3 question:

  • What they enjoyed,
  • What they appreciated and
  • How will they use what they have learned to improve

The object is randomly passed in the circle till everyone has had an opportunity.

Common Misconceptions

Misconception #1) Retrospective meetings are boring

retrospective-meetings-are-boring

This is the number one reason why team members do not like to conduct or be present for a retrospective meeting.

To make the meeting more engaging the facilitator should come up with fun yet effective ways to conduct these meetings.

Misconception #2) Retrospective meeting is my opportunity to point out the below average performance of a team member

A retrospective meeting is not a finger pointing or venting out meeting.

This meeting is not scheduled to pin-point out or call out team member for their weak points. This meeting is setup in a neutral environment with an aim to improve and grow as a team. Avoid making direct comments intended at a single person. And, do remember that the aim is to become better!

respective-meeting

Misconception #3) Only meeting organizer leads the Retrospective meetings and discusses issues

The team members should be encouraged to participate and share their point of view.  This meeting is for the betterment of the team and not for a top down discussion dictated by meeting organizer /facilitator.

At the same time, team members should be made comfortable so that they can express their true point of view without the fear of being judged or fear of backlash as a result of speaking up.

Misconception #4) Senior Management/Key stakeholders are not be invited at all to retrospective meetings

This varies from project to project. Higher management, product owners may be invited to the meeting for addressing any concerns they might have or any concerns that the team has regarding their governance.

Misconception #5) Retrospective meeting outcomes don’t need to be documented

Agile methodology is based on the principle “Working software over comprehensive documentation”, however, that does not mean that team should do away with documentation entirely.

Documenting retrospectives can lead to effective tracking of action points to closure. This can also be added to historical data repositories, where the team can access lessons learned as part of Organizational Process Assets

Conclusion

Retrospectives are very useful for team building and team collaboration.

Team members coming together to celebrate wins and propose improvements also create a more transparent and healthy team environment. Through continuous improvement and feedback, teams become better as time goes by.

The retrospective meetings should include both human issues (personality, attitude, lack of skills, etc.) and technical issues (scope, inconsistent requirements, system stability, etc.).

It is recommended that retrospective meetings be conducted at all levels and not just at the development team level.

The retrospective meetings can be conducted at the end of a milestone, end of a sprint, post mortem of an incident or issue, after major events, etc. Make sure that your retrospective meetings are documented and the action points are tracked to closure.

Last but not the least, make your retrospective meetings fun!

About the author: This useful article is written by Neha B. She is currently working as a Quality Assurance Manager and specialize in leading and managing In-house and Offshore QA teams.

Do you know of any fun ways of retrospective meetings that are not mentioned in this article? Please do let us know by posting your comments.




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20 comments ↓

#1 MSB

Very informative…Thanks

#2 Ahmed Fathi Elgaly

So valued and detailed view, Thank you

#3 Shantanu

Great article , really useful in project life cycle

#4 Darshan Satish

Very important info. I never thought Retrospective meetings can be funny, I specially like Circle celebration
:)

#5 ml

very instructive and fun article

#6 Neha B

Thank you dear readers for your positive feedback !

#7 Hitesh Siroya

Very fruitful article, i also like circle celebration & draw picture. Is there any other ways where we can remove hesitations of team members and try to find out the improvements area from those who speaks very less?

#8 Rohit

Thanks for this valuable information to gain advanced knowledge about Agile.

#9 Poonam

Great article. Can be an eye opener for many Agile teams.

#10 Neha B

Hi Hitesh

Glad you liked the article :) !

When dealing with hesitant or shy team members, the key is to make them feel comfortable team members so that they can express their true point of view without the fear of being judged or fear of backlash as a result of speaking up.

They might not open up in the first meeting but gradually when they get more comfortable, they will start expressing themselves more.

You can also try any other team building activities to bring team members closer. One of popular team building activity/sport popular here right now is Escape Room Adventure where all team members are put in a simulated environment and they need to rely on other team members and combinations of skills to escape the simulated room.

Thanks
Neha

#11 Ritesh

Very informative!!!

#12 Neha B

Thank you dear readers for your positive feedback :) !

#13 Bob

What testing is done during Agile? 

#14 Neha B

Hi Bob

The testing approach more or less similar in agile and waterfall methodology. In both, testers may be required to do functional testing, UI testing, integration testing, data testing, etc testing as desired. Some of the challenges for testing in agile is – shorter release/sprint cycles , frequent scope change and continuous testing.

Thanks
Neha

#15 Teri O.

I never liked going to the retrospective meeting because nothing ever changed. Then the powers to be made it mandatory that at least one “anchor” that we took away from the meeting had to be resolved by the next meeting. That made it a little better, like we were actually being heard. We also kept the Chickens out of the meeting. Only Pigs were allowed. That way the team could speak freely because a lot of times it was the Chicken that was the Anchor!! We would also start by playing a game. In one meeting we had to write something nice about the person to our left on a piece of paper and give it to them. It was really nice to know what your team mate appreciated about you!!

#16 Neha B

Hi Teri

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with STH readers.

Thanks
Neha

#17 chaitanya

good artical

#18 Ben Linders

Nice sum-up of things that matter in retrospectives, thanks Neha!

Glad to see that you mentioned some of the exercises that you can do. Varying the exercise helps to keep coming up with useful actions, making retrospectives valuable. Also teams won’t become bored by doing the same exercise over and over again.

Ben Linders
Co-author Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives

#19 Neha

Hi Ben

Thank you for your feedback, glad you liked the article.

Absolutely agree. By varying the Retrospective meeting format , teams may be more engaged and motivated to participate and suggest action points.

Thanks
Neha

#20 Alana Joseph

Thank you for the post!!! Sprint Retrospective meetings are convened by the Scrum Master. In these meetings, the team talks about the previous sprint and decided on how to make the next sprint productive. I read this interesting article about the Importance of Sprint Retrospective Meeting. I wanted to share the link to this article. I hope that it will add to the information you have provided in this article. Follow – https://www.scrumstudy.com/blog/sprint-retrospective-meeting/.

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