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What Could Possibly Go Wrong with the Sprint Retrospective?

By Luiz “Q” Quintela

What could possibly go wrong?

If you have ever watched Top Gear or more recently the Grand Tour, you heard Jeremy Clarkson utter these words more than a few times and you know what happened next. Everything that could go wrong, did!

Now, back to Scrum, we can argue which event is more important but we cannot argue that the Sprint Retrospective is of fundamental importance for improvement.

I often hear the usual concern that people are not speaking at a retro. That is mainly due to two reasons.

  1. Social loafing is the first one, people make less of an effort to speak when they work in teams because they expect others to speak for them.
  2. Social anxiety is when people worry about other team members views of their ideas.

Over the years, I have learned a few things about retrospectives.

It takes effort to make people talk freely. Once they talk, you must ensure that is done in a respectful and constructive way.

Sometimes it is OK to let people vent. We all need to. Once the venting is over, deal with it in a constructive way.

We all solve problems in a different way. Make people learn how to work together despite their differences. Don’t put them into molds that will break their spirit.

Don’t try to act on every single suggestion, problem and idea at once. Put them in the backlog and let it be ordered like all items but do your best to get one or two of them done in every sprint. People understand that things don’t happen overnight, but they will disengage quickly if there is no follow up.

From the retrospective-originated items that that you have chosen to work on, treat them as any backlog item, for instance, talk about them during the daily Scrum.

Watch for these common “things that can go wrong” or, if you want to use pedantic jargon, call them anti-patterns:

  • Team members are absent.
  • Team members do not participate.
  • There is no mutual trust so people don’t speak up.
  • Team does not address complex issues.
  • Retrospective eds with no action items.
  • Action items “come back” next retrospective.
  • Teams do not share retrospective learnings with other teams.
  • “Most of the impediments we identify are not fixable by my team!”
Above all, follow up on all retro items and lessons.

You may and most likely will, need help from others, but if you don’t follow up, the retrospective loses credibility and Scrum will be severely damaged!

Get to know Luiz here.

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