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What Is an Agile Retrospective and How It Boosts Team Performance

Discover everything you need to know about Agile retrospectives. Learn how to successfully inspect your processes and identify areas for improvement with our 5-step guide to Agile retrospectives.

What Is an Agile Retrospective?

An Agile retrospective is a team meeting that aims to inspect your processes in detail, solve existing problems and identify areas for improvement. The purpose of the retrospective meeting is to continuously improve the team's performance, the quality of the created value, and its delivery by examining what went well, what did not go well, and what changes can be made to improve.

Agile retrospectives may be held at the end of a sprint or an iteration for teams that use Scrum or at regular intervals if you use Kanban. Nowadays, the retrospective technique is widely used as an effective tool used by various teams that value continuous improvement, and not just for software development.

The retrospective is a time for team members to reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and set goals for the next iteration. The meeting should be facilitated by one of the team members who can guide it in a constructive way.

What Is the Purpose of Holding Agile Retrospectives?

Retrospectives are one of the Agile practices that help teams to reflect on their work and learn, which is a key principle of the Agile ways of working. Retrospectives promote transparency and open communication among Agile team members, which can have a positive impact on collaboration and organizational culture.

The main goal of retrospectives is to find ways to continuously improve the team’s work process by making it more efficient, productive, and enjoyable. It provides a framework for team members to assess what they have done well and what they need to improve on.

What Are the Benefits of Agile Retrospectives? 

Retrospectives have many benefits: they can help teams become more productive, improve communication, share knowledge, and foster team and cross-team collaboration. This is a list of the benefits of conducting retrospectives. 

Agile Retrospectives Support Continuous Improvement

Agile retrospectives create an environment for reflecting on work processes, identifying areas for improvement, and making necessary changes to improve continuously.

Agile Retrospectives Can Help Increase Accountability

Retrospectives provide a platform for team members to be accountable for their actions and help to ensure that everyone is aware of their responsibilities and is working towards the same goals.

Agile Retrospectives Can Improve Productivity

Agile retrospectives can help to identify and remove obstacles that hinder productivity enabling greater team efficiency.

Agile Retrospectives Promote Team Collaboration

In retrospectives, sharing is encouraged, which promotes a collaborative environment where everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

How to Run an Agile Retrospective?

Here is a five-step guide on how you can run your Agile retrospective. 

1. Setting the Stage 

The retrospective should take place in a relaxed environment with enough room for everyone to participate. The facilitator should introduce the purpose of the retrospective, and the desired outcomes and create a safe space where anyone can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or criticism.

2. Gathering Data 

The purpose of this step is to ensure everyone agrees on the topics to be discussed during the meeting. The team must come up with a list of the three most important things they want to improve and then take a look at how they are currently doing in those areas with the help of data.

3. Generating Insights 

Having agreed on the data with the team, the next step is to generate insights. A few simple questions can be asked during this phase, such as what patterns are evident in the data, what was surprising about the data, did you learn anything from the data, and was there anything you learned from looking at the data that you were unaware of before?

Based on these insights, the team should develop a plan to address these issues and create a timeline for implementing their solutions.

4. Deciding on Next Steps

Decide on the next steps to take to improve the process. This could be something as simple as changing a meeting time or as complex as overhauling the process altogether. Prioritize these actionable items based on their impact and feasibility.

5. Closing the Retrospective 

Closing the meeting includes summarizing the discussion, generating the next steps for improvement, and celebrating what went well. Schedule a follow-up to review progress.

What Should You Consider while Running an Agile Retrospective? 

The most important thing that you should consider while running an Agile Retrospective is including everyone from all levels of management, as well as the stakeholders. The idea behind this is that everyone has a voice and point of view that can be valuable in making improvements.

How Long Should an Agile Retrospective Take? 

The duration of an Agile retrospective depends on the length of the iterations in your process. Ideally, it should take no longer than an hour to reflect, group, and discuss the most critical problems. Keep track of the time for each phase by setting a timer. The team should know when to move on to other issues by setting clear guidelines.

What Mindset Is Required to Run a Successful Agile Retrospective? 

A successful agile retrospective requires a mindset that is open, honest, and constructive. It also requires people who are willing to learn from their mistakes and be flexible in their approach. This is because retrospectives are not just a team-building exercise but a way to identify and address problems that arise in the team.

What Is the Wanted Outcome of an Agile Retrospective Meeting? 

The desired outcome of an agile retrospective meeting is to identify what went well, what didn’t go well, and how to improve the process. This meeting should be a time for the team to reflect on their work and identify areas for improvement. This way, the team can learn from their successes as well as their failures.

How Often Should Agile Retrospectives Be Held? 

The frequency of an Agile retrospective is dependent on the team’s needs as well as the team’s maturity level. The frequency of holding retrospectives depends on the work management method or framework. However, they're usually held bi-weekly or once a month.

Agile Retrospectives in Kanban: Key Highlights

When talking about retrospectives and Agile, most people are quick enough to link them to the Scrum framework. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important to point out the Kanban perspective on the Agile ceremonies.

First of all, due to the continuous flow of work in Kanban, retrospectives can be held whenever the team feels a need to (it’s still good practice to agree on Kanban cadences - biweekly, monthly, etc.).

Furthermore, while the fundamental goal of a retrospective meeting is to look back at what has happened during a specific period, the Kanban method goes one step beyond that and emphasizes continuous flow analysis.

Teams gather around their Kanban boards and inspect their entire process/service with the goal of continuously improving it. While this includes reflecting on how the work has been delivered and what could’ve been done better, it also focuses on:

  • The structure of the process on the Kanban board (ex. Are there any stages that we need to add due to the evolution of the process or others that we need to exclude because they’re wasteful?)
  • Work visualization issues (ex. Are there certain types of work items that are not visualized on the Kanban board but still consume the team’s capacity?)
  • Alleviation of bottlenecks (ex. Are there stages in the process where too much work gets accumulated which causes some team members to be overburdened while others to stay idle for long periods of time?)
  • Work delivery analysis (ex. Is our average cycle time decreasing or increasing over time and do we meet our target service level expectations?)
  • Including others based on your case.

After analyzing how current work practices and the process, in general, could be improved, it’s important to prepare an action item list. Then, don’t just forget about it, but make sure you revisit it during the next team retrospective meeting to figure out whether your actions have actually brought improvements.

Agile Retrospectives Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Is an Agile Retrospective?

An Agile retrospective is a structured meeting held by teams at the end of an iteration or project to reflect on their performance and identify ways to improve. The purpose of the retrospective is to allow teams to discuss what worked well, what didn't work well, and what could be done differently in the future.

What Are the 3 Agile Retrospective Questions?

Many different questions can be asked during a retrospective, but one common framework is to ask the following three questions:

  • What went well?
  • What didn't go well?
  • What changes can be made to improve?

Why Is Retrospective Important in Agile?

A retrospective is important in Agile because it helps the team to identify possible problems, improve the quality of work, reduce waste, and increase productivity.

Who Should Join the Agile Retrospectives?

The Agile retrospective should be attended by the entire team, including the project manager, the team leader, and the product owner.

What Are the 5 Steps of Agile Retrospectives?

The five steps to holding an Agile retrospective include:

  1. Setting the stage
  2. Collecting data
  3. Generating insights
  4. Identifying actionable items
  5. Summarizing the retrospective

What Is a Typical Agile Retrospective Agenda?

An Agile retrospective starts with the facilitator setting up the stage for the meeting by telling everyone why it's important and what they will be talking about. Next, each person should share one thing that went well during the iteration and one thing that didn't go as expected or as planned. After this, there should be a discussion where people can come up with ideas on how to make things better next time around.

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In Summary

In an Agile retrospective, team members examine their processes in detail, solve existing problems, and identify areas for improvement. A good practice for setting up a successful meeting is following the next five steps:

  1. Set the stage 
  2. Gather data 
  3. Generate insights 
  4. Decide on actionable items 
  5. Close the retrospective 
Michaela Toneva

Michaela Toneva

SEO & Content Creator | Agile Practitioner

With a never-ending thirst for knowledge and a passion for continuous improvement, Michaela is an Agile practitioner with a good understanding of Kanban, Lean, and Agile methodologies. Her professional background includes SEO and content writing with a dose of sales and a pinch of social media.

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