Running an Effective Retrospective Meeting

By Fred Mastropasqua - March 21, 2015

March 21, 2015 By Fred Mastropasqua
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Running an Effective Retrospective Meeting

The Concern

I've been giving workshops lately on how to run effective Agile Retrospectives. It's amazing how many teams do not run *true* Retrospectives or are not sure on how to run them. I used to fall into that same category when I started out as a Scrum Master. You want to run an awesome Retrospective meeting but you really don't know where to start. I've found that a true Retrospective is about learning from mistakes made during the sprints;  how to improve the team while increasing velocity where possible, and deciding what works and what doesn't.  All that made sense to me intellectually, but in reality, trying to accomplish these things sometimes, is not as clear.

When someone first attempts to run a Retrospective, they have a tendency to sit around a table and ask questions in an attempt to facilitate. They bring some type of metrics data into the meeting like burn down charts or reports showing the new velocity. While this data is helpful, it doesn't really help get to the root causes of lackluster performance.  You end up with a "Yah; we'll do better next time!" and then hope for the best.

For myself, I wanted to be a "Great" Scrum Master. This ambition led me to dig-in, research, and find out how to run an effective Retrospective Meeting.

The Outcome

My eyes were opened after reading Agile Retrospectives - Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.  The core concepts in Derby's book follow techniques found in The Retrospective Handbook - A guide for agile teams by Patrick Kau. Unlike Kau's Handbook, which is written in a do/don't format, Derby's book walks you through activities, step-by-step, to implement.  I have to give Derby and Larsen a lot of credit for propelling my Retrospective meetings to the next level.

Examples of the stages found in Kau's Handbook are as follows:

  1. Set the Stage

  2. Gather Data

  3. Generate Insights

  4. Decide What To Do

  5. Close the Retrospective

What Derby/Larsen did was provide a way of *how* to accomplish these, providing activities you can use and choose from depending on the situation and your goals.  This is a great way to get started in enhancing your retrospective meetings, gathering useful information, and the next steps in a collaborative process.

There are other retrospective meeting activities not mentioned in these books such as the Speedboat or Sailboat exercise.  Also, thanks to Veronica Stewart, from our local TampaBay Agile Meetup group, for some of the additional references listed below.

Go Forth And Retro

If you want to gather better information from your Retrospectives, consider picking up a copy of these books. Equally as important, make time to prepare for the meeting. Practice implementing the step-by-step activities and you'll take your Retrospective to the next level.

Thanks' for reading!

Other Retrospective Tools/Sites

  • Fun Retrospectives -

  • Tasty Cupcakes -

  • Distributed Agile Retrospectives -