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Things That Every Scrum Master Should Keep In Mind When Organizing a Retrospective

Things That Every Scrum Master Should Keep In Mind When Organizing a Retrospective

Angela M

Angela M.

6 minutes

Sep 9, 2022

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Things That Every Scrum Master Should Keep In Mind When Organizing a Retrospective

When we decided to operate Devōt according to the Agile mindset, we opted to start with the Scrum framework.

This means we needed to implement a set of tools, roles, and meetings (known as events or ceremonies) to help teams structure and manage their work during projects.

Every project's last event (i.e. meeting) is called the Retrospective, and it is arguably the most important part of the Scrum framework.

Why do we conduct a Retrospective – what are the main benefits?

By definition, a Retrospective "looks back on past events or situations." In the context of Scrum methodology, it is a dedicated time frame intended to reflect on the completed part of the project to analyze what worked, what didn't, and why - so that the team can make improvements.

The Retrospective should take place after every Sprint; a timebox wherein a team works to complete a specific milestone – with the primary goal of keeping the project on track and improving teamwork for the next iteration.

Scrum master facilitates these meetings – a team member whose role is to facilitate and moderate the Retrospective to create a safe space for all the Scrum team members to share ideas, observations, thoughts and concerns openly.

There are many ways to lead a Retrospective meeting, but they all come down to this – defining the solid and weak points of the last iteration and intending to improve the performance for the next part of the project.

It can be very challenging – yet necessary for improvement

Since you can't hold a successful Retrospective without your team being open and honest, this is a great way to get to know your team members better, build stronger team spirit, and create a comfortable work environment.

During this meeting, the whole team concentrates exclusively on improving the processes and workflow – because the very essence of the agile methodology is constant improvement and optimization. Also, this is the time to have some fun, break the monotony of the workday, and improve team morale.

The Scrum master's responsibility is to ensure every team member understands the importance of Retrospective and is willing to participate – and that is not always an easy task.

The road to a successful Retrospective can be paved with many challenges. Sometimes it's due to the lack of trust or unwillingness to respect a different opinion. Other times, team members feel discouraged from sharing their honest thoughts and ideas.


So, how can you improve your Retrospective skills as a Scrum Master?

As a well-structured team with coordinated Scrum ceremonies, we decided to share some of the most valuable tips and tricks for organizing and conducting a successful Retrospective. While following established Scrum techniques, we always tend to make our Retrospectives positive, relaxed and friendly – as long as the ceremony's purpose is met.

If your first Retrospective meeting didn't go as planned, or you are just looking for some tips for improving your role as a Scrum master, here are some helpful tips:

  • Prepare for the retro before the meeting

  • Every team member must share their thoughts for the retrospective to be successful. So start preparing before the meeting and gather important feedback from your team members – motivate them to come up with good discussion topics and prepare for the retro.

  • Make sure your team members are comfortable and in the right mood

  • Sharing personal opinions and giving honest feedback is not always easy, especially for new team members. As a person conducting a Retrospective, it's your role to break the ice and get people to open up. You can encourage them to get to know each other by beginning with a game of ice-breaker questions (like sharing the funniest moment in the workspace during the last month), and creating an overall safe and inclusive space for them to be honest.

  • Kick things off with a quick review of the action items

  • Start every Retrospective with a quick review of the action items from the previous Retrospective. You probably ended your last Retrospective with a list of tasks to improve the project's workflow and a list of people responsible for completing these tasks. At the beginning of the next Retrospective, include a brief recap of the action item from the last time. Talk about what you accomplished and what still has to be done.

  • Ask probing questions

  • When discussing the challenges and problems of the last Sprint, get your team to think the issues through. For example, if someone brings up the many bugs they had to deal with, you can follow up with a more detailed question, such as “How can we address this more efficiently in the future?” or “Why were there so many bugs in the last iteration?”

  • Keep the focus on the single Sprint

  • It is important to keep the team focused, so when they start with Retrospectives, they concentrate on events within a single Sprint. Making sure the iterations are independent will make the meeting much more efficient while allowing the new team members to form independent thoughts and share their perspectives.

  • Switch up the format

  • Don't use the same format every time so your team won't get bored. You can also switch things up by experimenting with hosting a Retrospective in different locations, such as a local park or cafe. A change of scenery can fuel creativity and make the process more enjoyable.

  • Stay on track

  • Remember that you should dedicate most of the Retrospective to the actual discussion. So make sure to leave five minutes for the introduction, another five for the overview of the last iteration, and then about ten minutes, in the end, to summarize and give suggestions for the next Retrospective.

  • Keep the atmosphere balanced

  • You want your team members to share their opinions, but don't spend the entire meeting on complaints. Instead, try to find a balance between positives and negatives. Finally, the team should come up with a conclusion, define what they did right, and where there is room for improvement.

  • Finish with a new set of goals

  • Before ending a Retrospective, set a new list of tasks for the team and the individual members. Also, make sure your team partakes in creating that list.

  • Stick to the rhythm

  • Retrospectives should become a habit. They should create a rhythm that works for your team. Sometimes it'll feel like you don't have much to talk about from the last Sprint, but it's important to create a regular opportunity for your team to share their thoughts.

  • Take your time, don’t rush and jump to conclusions

  • Although you need to channel the team energy to concrete action points, many Scrum Masters make the mistake of quickly closing the retrospective without getting to the actual root cause of the problem. So take at least 90 minutes and wisely choose the moment when you believe you should switch from diverging to converging thinking.


And finally, practice makes perfect!

Even though it is a structured meeting, a Retrospective should be a free format. The Scrum master's responsibility is to decide when, where, and how to conduct it. The key to running a successful Retrospective is a combination of planning and experience. While planning will keep you on the right track, the experience will help you choose the suitable format and lead your team towards solutions.

Like in most facets of life, practice makes perfect. So remember: the only wrong way to hold a Retrospective is not to hold one at all.