The Agile Series

Reflection Over Perfection

A guide to running Sprint Retrospectives

Jennifer Porter, an executive coach, says that her hardest clients are leaders who refuse to reflect — particularly leaders who won’t reflect on themselves.

According to recent research, employees who spend 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting perform 23% better than those who do not. Another study found that people who use their commute to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.

“I often tell my clients that a daily practice of self-reflection strengthens self-awareness and will enable them to make better choices,” adds Naz Beheshti, an executive wellness coach and consultant.

“Leaders who work with me to shape and commit to such a practice are better able to tap into their highest potential for success.”

Sounds good, right? Let’s dig in.

If you’ve been following along in our Agile series, you know that we’ve been talking about Sprint Planning, a proven way to more effectively hit goals throughout a project, Daily Standups, a simple tactic to keep forward momentum day by day, and Sprint Reviews, a great way to maintain accountability within your teams. Today, we’re going to cover a ritual called the Sprint Retrospective.

Sprint Retrospective overview

Sprint Retrospectives are a great way to help your entire team reflect on ways to improve at set intervals throughout a project. The goal is to work together as a team to design ways to improve productivity and team dynamics throughout each Sprint.

While the Sprint Review is meant to measure the teams collective progress toward agreed upon goals, the Sprint Retrospective is about identifying areas for improvement to make the next Sprint better. The goal of this meeting is to open the floor for everyone to collaborate on ways to make the construction process more effective (and enjoyable!). If done well, it creates a safe space for the entire team to share their honest feedback on the process.

In terms of frequency, you can run retrospectives at the end of each Sprint, though you probably don’t need to. Conducting them every 2-4 weeks, is probably sufficient to ensure continuous improvement within the team without wasting too much valuable time in meetings.

Here’s your checklist for running effective Sprint Retrospectives:

  • Set the ground rules: One of the most important aspects of an effective retro is to create a safe space for the entire team to speak freely. The goal of  this meeting is not to point fingers. Rather, it is to offer constructive criticism for how the team can work better together. There is often a fine line here, so the Sprint Leader must set the ground rules clearly up front in order to keep everyone focused on improving the team. Ensure everyone checks their egos at the door.
  • Pass the Mic: With the team gathered together, the Sprint leader should facilitate a process to let each team member, one at at time, share their thoughts on the following questions without interruption or rebuttal:
  1. What went well during the Sprint?
  2. What problems did we run into?
  3. How were those problems solved/not solved?
  4. What can we do to improve in the next Sprint?
  • Capture action items and ideas: When conducting a Sprint Retrospective, have someone serve as the scribe to capture all new ideas or suggestions. This is the list that the Sprint Leader should use to prioritize and implement any process changes for future Sprints.

Through following these simple guidelines, your time together as a team will be focused on continuously improving your process every step of the way, leading to more productivity, happier teams, and a better bottom line.

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