Tips on how to conduct a retro

For: scrummasters and teamleads

The most important thing with retro’s is that you have them. But when you have them, there are a couple of things that you can do to optimize and get the most out of them.

When to do the retro

Try to schedule the retro after the sprint, around the moment you do your demo. Since the team will already start looking back on two weeks and see what has happened and how they can demo their achievements, this is an ideal moment.

Use sticky notes

Let everybody write down their own positive and negative points on sticky notes. Some members may come prepared with some sticky notes that they have gathered during the sprint (if you see that there’s not enough quality feedback you can suggest doing this to the team). Each note can get a + or a – in the top.

Create a board with two or maybe three lanes. A lane for things that didn’t went so well and a lane for positive things. When someone is done, let them put their notes on the board. Each member can see if one of their points was already put on the board. If so, let them stack. Big stacks, usually indicate big concerns regarding that point.

Some benefits of doing sticky notes instead of going sequentially through all members:

  • everybody can write down their own thoughts, and don’t have to remember them through the talks of others
  • you can monitor actual participation in the retro, instead of having a ‘what he / she said’ or ‘I have nothing’ answer
  • you get to know some sense of how big a concern actually is
  • you can take the notes with you to process them later and not have everyone waiting for you

What to put on the notes

It’s important not to narrow the scope of these points. Let people tell that they’ve had a good barbecue, a nice birthday or a dog that died. Because influences from our personal lives into our professional lives, are as real as the other way around. Being able to briefly share your joy or sadness on something, makes this meeting something to look out for, and it’s an easy way to share stuff with your team and fortify your future collaboration. When a team member feels heard and seen, he’ll tend to stick around longer.

Run through the notes

Start with the points of concern. This is because of two reasons. You don’t want to spoil a good vibe, and people seem to cling on to the vibe they left a meeting with. This way, the momentum you’ve built during the discussing of positive things will carry on after the meeting. Create piles of all + and – notes

Guiding the meeting

Rotate members to read the cards (different member per retro). This trains them in speaking and conducting meetings (even though this is a very small and safe meeting), which will help them in the future. Also, you’ll prevent biassing the meetings with the tone of one person that always reads the cards.

Let someone take notes, but only on the action points. So when the team discusses the cards, only write down how they think they can do better. When the meeting is over, create a page with a retro template in Confluence (or any other tool you use). Take the stack of + cards and write them on the column ‘what we did well’. Take the stack of – cards and write them on ‘what should we have done better’, and take the notes of the discussions and put them on ‘actions’.

Revisit the list of previous action points at the end of each meeting and compare them with the list of actions from the previous time. Don’t add unsolved actions to the new action list. When an action didn’t get recurrence, it fell out of grace and might have not been a thing for an action point after all. Do ask which of the actions have been done, and update your previous actions so they get marked done. You can look over-time if actions get recurrence. This enables you to detect inefficiencies within your way of working.