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The Power of the Sprint Retrospective

Every event in Scrum revolves around the Sprint, which is the heartbeat of Scrum. Each event is important. The Sprint Planning event sets the goal and plan for the Sprint, and the Daily Scrum increases the likelihood of delivering a done increment. The Sprint Review is an opportunity to inspect what the team got done and collaborate on what to do next. The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the team to discuss how they are working together and improve upon it.


In my experience, it’s the Sprint Retrospective that teams are most likely to skip, berate, or otherwise bash. When I hear teams talking about dropping it to “save time,” I want to pull a Darth Vader, shake my fist in the air, and say, “You don’t know the power of the Sprint Retrospective!” and then demand that the team meet anyway.


​Alas, I am not Darth Vader. But hear me out to consider these five reasons for never skipping a Retrospective.


It’s the Scrum Master’s pivotal event

The reason that teams have a Scrum Master is to improve the adoption of Scrum. The Sprint Retrospective allows the team to talk about how to improve the way they work together, review the Definition of Done or update the tools they use to deliver value. This event is an opportunity for anyone - including the Scrum Master - to share their ideas for improving the team. Everyone has the chance to champion good practices and work towards an ever higher performing team. In traditional ways of working - such as waterfall projects - the team waits until the end to talk about how things went when it’s too late to make helpful changes. With Scrum, the team talks about it every Sprint! What a golden opportunity! Do not throw this away.

The Retrospective is a powerful event

A series of small improvements is much more powerful than a one-time system overhaul. Change is difficult, and making giant leaps is more challenging and riskier than taking small steps. Scrum’s approach to improving through small, incremental change is one of the reasons it works in the first place. If - every Sprint - your team discovers one or two small improvements and acts on them, the positive change over time is tremendous. You truly will not recognize yourselves in six months if you continuously make these minor enhancements in your work processes.

It’s an opportunity to build trust and live the Scrum values

The entire team participates in the Sprint Retrospective, including the Product Owner, Scrum Master and all Developers. In my experience, this event results in higher-performing teams because of the open and honest feedback that takes place. Team members get the chance to regularly practice:

  • being open to feedback,

  • having the courage to provide feedback,

  • treating each other with respect,

  • committing to improving the team, and

  • focusing on themselves and how they are working together.

The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the team to embrace the Scrum values, leading to greater trust among team members, which is key to high-performance growth. (If you love the Scrum values as much as I do, check out my recent webinar, How the Scrum Values Can Help You Practice Professional Scrum | Scrum.org.)

A high-performing team delivers value sooner

When teams talk about skipping the Sprint Retrospective, they commonly rationalize that it’s to save time. But practicing the event saves more time than the team can ever gain by dropping it. It saves time by eliminating waste. At the Sprint Retrospective, the team talks about how to improve how they work together, which is another way of saying that they talk about how to stop wasting time and energy on low-value work, conflict, or inefficient processes. By skipping the Sprint Retrospective, teams actually lose more time than they gain.

The Retrospective can help de-escalate (or prevent) conflict

Conflict decreases the effectiveness of the team and lowers morale. The Sprint Retrospective is a safe space for the team to discuss any concerning behavior. Discussing this behavior at the earliest opportunity allows the team to prevent or de-escalate conflict.

Why do teams skip the Sprint Retrospective if it’s so powerful?

When teams contemplate skipping the Sprint retrospective, it’s usually because of one of three things:

  • The team is new and doesn’t realize the power of the Sprint Retrospective

  • The Sprint Retrospective is not resulting in actionable improvement ideas

  • The team is not taking action on the ideas identified in the Sprint Retrospective, causing them to lose faith in the event.

For those newer to Scrum, I say, try it and see. For those who have not seen success with the Sprint Retrospective, check out my recent article Ideas for Scrum’s Sprint Retrospective Event | Scrum.org and remember that the outcome of the Sprint Retrospective should be one or two small improvement ideas. The Sprint Retrospective is not a venting session, and it’s not only about team building (although that can be an offshoot of working on self-improvement for the team). Rather than vent about problems, the team should develop ideas for fixing them and take action as soon as possible. You can add these items to the Sprint Backlog if the team chooses and would like to make them visible. You can also track the ideas in any other way that’s comfortable for the team.


The Scrum Master should ensure that the Sprint Retrospective happens each Sprint and that it remains positive and productive within the timebox. Take a page out of Han Solo’s book and keep a little optimism even under pressure.

Conclusion

The Sprint Retrospective is a powerful event. It is an opportunity for the team to inspect themselves. During this event, the team discusses how the Sprint went regarding individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. Like all events in Scrum, the Sprint Retrospective serves an essential purpose, and teams should never drop it. If they do, they will lose an opportunity to inspect and adapt, leading to a lower-performing team. Don’t skip the Sprint Retrospective, and may the force be with you.