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What Is A Sprint Retrospective And How It Should Be Conducted

By Expert Author: Mrugesh Panchal

What is a sprint retrospective and why is it so important?
Evolution is a continuous process, and if a person studies the past, he or she can avail a much better idea about how things exist the way they do today. The rule is not so different for scrum. If one is able to study the performance of sprints which have been carried out in the past, one can possibly know about what issues and pitfalls have affected prior sprints, and in what manner. Sprint retrospectives offer an opportunity to learn from the sprints which have already been carried out, and what the management still needs to learn from them. It is one of the main reasons why retrospectives exist in scrum. At the end of each sprint, the product owner and the scrum master meet to discuss about, and analyze the sprint which has just been completed. The process enables the scrum team to better itself, and avoid the problems which have occurred in the past. The entire team as well as the project can move forward in a positive and a fruitful manner.

The lessons learnt and the results obtained from a retrospective are very much useful for planning the next sprint. The results play an important part in the sprint planning meeting carried out just before a new sprint is initiated. Ideally, a meeting lasting for 30 to 60 minutes should be carried out immediately after the current sprint is over. The main purpose of the meeting should be to brief the team members as to how they should prepare for the retrospective to be held at a later date.

Who attends the retrospective?
It is mandatory for the product owner and the scrum master to attend the meeting. Ideally, the meeting should also be attended by the team members since the main purpose of the meeting is to learn about the mistakes occurred during the sprint, and concerns the team. If so desired, the investors and the stakeholders can also attend the meeting. However, their role should only include providing feedback and any information pertaining to the acceptance criterions if so required by the team members or the product owner.

Conducting the retrospective
Before starting with the retrospective, ensure that each person attending the meeting is clear about what is to be discussed, and what goals are to be achieved from the meeting. It is important to convey that the purpose of the meeting is not to point fingers and accuse others for something that has gone wrong. The team should face the problem collectively and in a sporting manner.

Chart out the entire sprint on the whiteboard and indicate the user stories which have met with difficulties, or which have not been accepted as “done”. Instruct the team members to take notes as the meeting progresses, or as and when they feel it is necessary to do so. Discuss about the actual problem which has occurred. Explain about the exact nature of the problem to the team members, and how the particular problem has affected the results desired out of the sprint. In addition, the members could also be explained about the significance of the problem from the ROI point of view. In the end when the briefing activity is over, ask the team members to submit their notes and encourage them to participate in the discussion. Ask them to contribute their opinion as to how the problem could have been avoided, and what steps should be taken to correct it. It should not matter if the team member lacks the knowledge or the experience to contribute anything concrete or of significance during the discussions. It should also be acceptable if the particular member offers a suggestion which is wrong or unacceptable. The basic purpose of the retrospective is to learn through collaboration. There is learning involved in the process, and the team should benefit from the discussions in a positive manner. Moreover, scrum advocates active participation and invites suggestions from everyone associated with the project. It is for the product owner and the scrum master to unanimously decide which suggestions are important and should be taken up for consideration.

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