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Why and how to hold a sprint retrospective meeting

Software development teams can learn from past mistakes to streamline and improve processes. Retrospectives help them do just that.

A retrospective meeting is a great way to motivate an enterprise software team and give them an opportunity to express opinions and be heard.

In Agile software development, a sprint retrospective meeting occurs at the conclusion of an iteration. Teams should hold a sprint retrospective after a sprint review and before the planning meeting for the next sprint. During the retrospective, evaluate what happened throughout the development and release process, and discuss ways to improve things in the future.

Goals and benefits of a sprint retrospective meeting

A retrospective meeting is a fundamental component of Agile project management. Retrospective meetings provide quick iterations on processes among fast-moving teams, which enables them to work collaboratively and generate better products in future sprints.

Sprint retrospective meetings are designed to improve the quality of a development project, sprint by sprint. These gatherings improve the development process and substantially improve an application's quality.

These meetings also provide an opportunity for team members to share valuable insights and identify potential pitfalls at an early stage in the development lifecycle. Additionally, the retrospectives help teams identify and resolve conflicts, as well as determine ways to optimize processes. One of the most critical outputs from a sprint retrospective meeting is a list of tangible improvements that team members commit to implementing in the next sprint.

Who attends a sprint retrospective

Typically, the Scrum Master runs a sprint retrospective meeting, but other team members can act as a facilitator. The attendees of a sprint retrospective include the Scrum Master, the product owner and members of the development team; they all engage in design, development and testing. These team members bring diverse perspectives to the meetings.

The Scrum Master organizes meetings and works with the development team to ameliorate their workflow practices, but they aren't responsible for providing answers on everything that didn't go as planned. Rather, this person should help the team improve the process in subsequent sprints.

The Scrum Master serves as the team's process coach, offering advice and expertise as needed. Stakeholders and supervisors not directly engaged with the team are unlikely to attend a retrospective unless specifically invited. Instead, they attend the sprint review meeting, during which the team discusses what they have accomplished throughout the sprint and shows product demos.

Meeting best practices

Best practices to improve a sprint retrospective meeting include the following:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Stay focused.
  • Set the context.
  • Motivate and innovate.
  • Share responsibility.
  • Take an action-oriented approach.

The meeting agenda

A sprint retrospective meeting agenda has several key components. For example, in the book Agile Retrospectives, authors and consultants Esther Derby and Diana Larsen suggested five phases for a meeting:

  1. Set the stage. This is the first and most important step in the agenda. The meeting organizer, such as the Scrum Master, should boost team morale and share the purpose of the meeting.
  2. Gather data. Use data to portray a picture of exactly what happened within the sprint.
  3. Generate insights. In this step, discuss what went well in the sprint, and identify any issues that hindered success.
  4. Decide what to do. Outline the necessary steps toward improvement, and compile them into an action plan.
  5. Close the retrospective. Look back on the meeting, and discuss ways to improve similar meetings in the future. Conclude the meeting with an acknowledgment and appreciation for each team member's contributions.

Sprint retrospective vs. sprint review

The primary difference is that a sprint review focuses on the product and optimizes the sprint's business value, while a retrospective focuses on people, processes and tools.

The terms sprint review and sprint retrospective are similar but contain subtle differences that development teams need to know.

The primary difference is that a sprint review focuses on the product and optimizes the sprint's business value, while a retrospective focuses on people, processes and tools.

A sprint review helps a development team meet customer expectations, while a sprint retrospective analyzes the previous sprint in terms of the process followed, as well as the collaboration channels and tools in place.

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