Perspective On Scrum Retrospectives


I remember as a kid playing baseball, my coach kept saying, “keep your eye on the ball!” “Mitt on the ground!” “Follow through on your swing!” You could hear him from the dugout. He was right, I hit better when I watched the ball travel from the pitcher’s hand to my bat. Just one grounder through the legs taught me the value of shoving my glove to the dirt. “Follow through on your swing” was less intuitive. I swung. I missed. The ball was already in the catcher’s mitt. Why keep swinging? Sometimes I swung, and I hit. Why should I keep swinging when the ball was in play?

Back on the bench after another solid grounder up the line coach sat next to me.
Coach: “Kid, you have a nice swing.”
Me: “Thanks coach”
Coach: “You really could be a great hitter.”
Me: “I just hit a single to right!”
Coach: “Yeah, I saw… You know, if you used all your power that could have been a triple.”
Me: “I swung really hard.”
Coach: “Sure but, you didn’t hit it as hard as you could. You pull your swings short. When you try to stop your swing at the point of contact you’re preparing to stop you’re slowing down before you connect. If you swing through you’ll hit when your power is at it’s strongest.”

Launch day is not the end of a project. My brain keeps thinking about my projects well after I’ve launched a project. If you stop the moment your project is “finished” you’ll be holding back. Sure you put the ball in play but how well did you hit it? Is your swing improving? Will you be better next time?

One method of follow through in terms of completing a project is to review a completed project or sprint as a team. Do you know what worked well? What should your team do differently next time? We call these meetings retrospectives.

A well run retrospective will surface the not so obvious. For example, on our last project a number of new tools and processes were introduced. Was that a good change? Our team said it was but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they said it was too much. We needed to talk as a team to make a real assessment.

Retrospectives can give insight into the depth of known problems. On our last project we knew we had been struggling with work from the client. In our review we found that our initial requirements gathering needed more work. We knew we had a problem but talking as a team allowed us to see how severe the issue was, identify its root cause, and put us on a path to do better.

Running a successful retrospective is hard. Your team may not want to revisit the past and I am sure they have other work to do. If you are going to take the time to do a retrospective(and spend your boss’s money paying everyone to be there) you better make it worth everyone’s while. Here are four keys to a successful retrospective.

The first step in “not wasting everyone’s time” is to prepare. You must have a game plan. If you want to lead an engaging follow up I recommend “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great”. This great book was recommended to me by my ScrumMaster Trainer Bob Schatz (also pretty great).

Set the Tone:
Once you get everyone together you have to set the tone. Retrospectives are about getting better. They are not about blame. The site “Fun Retrospectives” has a Prime Directive which I find helpful. It states:
Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.
You need to create a mood that will allow people to share what they think. If you can get them ready to share and listen you’re doing something right.

Engage your Audience:
Don’t run a poll. To successfully draw thoughts out of your team you need engaging activities. Post-its and white boards are your friends. The book “Agile Retrospectives” offers a catalogue of activities to get your group interacting, talking and sharing.

Follow through on your follow through:
After the meeting you have a responsibility to put your discovered insights into action. What are your next steps? How will you apply this information? This is your chance to get better as a team.

What will happen the next time you step up to the plate?