Agile software creation is built on a range of strategies and procedures that originate from the Agile Manifesto. Agile methodology highlights the importance of teamwork and ongoing product delivery.
One of the 12 principles detailed in the Agile Manifesto articulates:
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“On a regular basis, the team reflects on how to be more efficient and adjusts its habits accordingly.”
Agile Retrospective meetings incorporate this principle into the approach of agile teams.
In this article, we will explore the significance of retrospective meetings and some engaging methods for running these sessions.
Suggested reading => Top 6 Reasons to Implement Agile in Your Organization
This article will cover:
The Meaning and Objectives of Retrospective Meetings
Retrospective meetings are essentially discussions focused on past events or circumstances.
True to their name, the goal of retrospective meetings is to reflect on the latest sprint, project, or milestone, identify areas for enhancement, and acknowledge team accomplishments.
This aligns with the concept of ongoing improvement, where teams gather to discuss what worked well and what requires improvement for the upcoming sprint, project, or milestone.
How to Facilitate Retrospective Meetings
Various stages of a project may call for retrospective meetings:
- Retrospective meetings can take place at the end of a sprint and before the beginning of the next one to reflect on the completed sprint.
- They can be arranged to evaluate a particular challenging situation.
- They can also occur at a milestone to gauge the progress made up to that point.
The Steps of an Agile Retrospective
The following steps are common to any retrospective meeting:
- Establish the Atmosphere: Organize the meeting by inviting all the necessary team members and stakeholders, and assign the meeting setup responsibility to a facilitator, such as the PM or Scrum Master.
- Compile Data: Once the meeting starts, gather thoughts, perspectives, and concerns from team members. This can be done using various agile retrospective activities, such as Start, Stop, and Continue, Draw Me a Picture, and so on.
- Extrapolate Insights: Review the collected data and detect significant patterns and trends. The goal is to realize the reasons behind specific issues and find solutions to them. For instance, if the team members are dissatisfied with the duration of daily stand-ups, this can be further investigated to pinpoint causes like irrelevant discussions or unrealistic time expectations.
- Develop an Action Plan: After identifying the underlying issues, design actionable steps to tackle them. Assign these tasks to accountable team members who will ensure the problems are resolved by the agreed deadline.
- Conclude: Express gratitude to the team for their contribution and time. Ensure that the discussion and action plan are recorded and shared with the team members for future reference.
Formats, Ideas, and Activities for Agile Retrospective Meetings
#1) What Worked Well, Areas for Improvement, and Action Items
In this meeting, team members assess what worked well, what could have been better, what they’ve learned, and action items relating to areas requiring improvement.
Assign responsible team members to these action items. The discussion can be recorded and shared with all attendees after the meeting, or stored on a shared drive/intranet for convenient access.
#2) Begin, Cease, and Maintain Meeting
In this meeting, team members voice their thoughts on what the team should start, stop, and keep doing in future sprints.
This method is notably effective for new teams.
- “Begin” items are actions the team wants to introduce into their process, such as punctuality for project meetings.
- “Cease” items are actions the team wishes to eliminate, such as committing code without a code review.
- “Maintain” items are actions the team wishes to carry forward, such as daily check-ins.
The meeting facilitator can set minimum and maximum limits for the number of items each team member can suggest. For instance, each team member must supply at least one item for each category (Begin, Cease, Maintain), and they may suggest a maximum of three items per category.
Also, once the list is complete, team members can vote to prioritize the most vital items.
#3) Five ‘Whys’ Format Meeting
This meeting format is centered on asking successive “Why” questions to team members.
The aim of this format is to discern the root causes of a problematic circumstance (symptom) when the causes may not be immediately evident.
The objective is not to instantaneously remedy the issue but to comprehend the situation better and possibly determine the root cause.
Each team member lists the reasons they believe are causing the issue. Once the list is created, the answers are combined into one chain, representing the team’s mutual consensus.
This approach works exceptionally well for smaller teams comprising 3-5 members.
Problem: The product’s quality was subpar.
Answer 1: Unstable build.
Answer: There’s no process enforcement – There’s no code freeze.
Answer: Change in scope.
Answer: The impact was not identified during the planning phase of the project.
#4) Angry, Melancholic, Joyful
In this format, team members spend a few moments jotting down sticky notes for each of the emotions: Angry, Melancholic, and Joyful.
- “Angry” notes refer to hindrances and obstructions.
- “Melancholic” notes revolve around internal problems.
- “Joyful” notes delve into positive facets the team members are pleased with.
Once the time has passed, sticky notes are grouped based on the emotions they represent. Then, the issues noted in the Angry and Melancholic categories are voted on, prioritizing them for forming action items.
#5) Picture It To Me
This technique includes non-verbal communication during the retrospective meeting.
In this format, team members are given a few minutes to gather their thoughts and express their views and opinions through illustrations.
This format is notably beneficial for retrospectives where oral communication within the team is ineffective, as it acts as an icebreaker and encourages team members to visually share their thoughts.
#6) Circle of Appreciation
This technique collects feedback using the Pluses and Deltas framework (what worked well and what demands improvement).
In this activity, team members form a circle. One member initiates by tossing a soft throwable object (like a plush toy or stress ball) to another member.
Once a team member catches the object, they answer three queries:
- What did they find enjoyable?
- What are they thankful for?
- How will they utilize what they’ve learned to improve?
The object is passed randomly around the circle until all members have answered these queries.
Myth #1) Retrospective meetings are uninteresting
This is the primary reason why team members may dislike or not actively participate in retrospective meetings.
To make the meetings more engaging, facilitators should devise enjoyable yet effective methods for facilitating these meetings.
Myth #2) Retrospective meetings are a chance to criticize team members for below average performance
Retrospective meetings are not intended for laying blame or airing grievances.
These meetings should be held in a neutral setting, aiming to improve and grow as a group. Steer clear of towards direct comments targeted at individuals; the objective is to collectively improve!
Myth #3) The meeting organizer should always lead retrospective meetings and discussion of issues
Team members should be motivated to actively participate and share their views. This meeting is designated for improving the team, and the discussion shouldn’t be monopolized solely by the meeting organizer or facilitator.
Additionally, team members should be allowed to express their genuine opinions without the fear of judgment or adverse repercussions.
Myth #4) Proxy Management/Key stakeholders should not be invited to retrospective meetings
The degree of involvement of higher management and key stakeholders in these meetings may differ depending on the project. They can be invited to express any concerns they may have or to chat about any governance-related issues raised by the team.
Myth #5) The outcomes of retrospective meetings do not need to be recorded
Agile methodology prioritizes operational software over extensive documentation. However, this doesn’t mean that teams should refrain from all sorts of documentation.
Documenting retrospectives can help effectively keep track of action points until they’re resolved. The documented outcomes can also be stored in historical data repositories, providing the team with access to lessons learned as part of the Organizational Process Assets.
Retrospectives are extremely beneficial for fostering teamwork and collaboration.
When team members come together to celebrate victories and suggest improvements, it encourages a transparent and healthy team atmosphere. Through consistent improvement and feedback, teams become more resilient over time.
Retrospective meetings should take into consideration both human issues (personalities, attitudes, skill gaps, etc.) and technical challenges (scope, fluctuating requirements, system stability, etc.).
It is advised to hold retrospective meetings at all levels, rather than just at the development team level.
Retrospective meetings can be convened at the conclusion of milestones, sprints, incident or issue post-mortems, or significant events. Ensure that the outcomes of retrospective meetings are documented and that action points are tracked until they are fulfilled.
Finally, aim to make retrospective meetings entertaining!
Author bio: This enlightening article was penned by Neha B. Currently, she is serving as a Quality Assurance Manager and has expertise in leading both in-house and offshore QA teams.
Are you aware of any other fun strategies for retrospective meetings that are not mentioned in this article? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.