Apr 15th, 2024

7 Steps to Run a Smooth Agile Retrospective Meeting


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We've all heard about retrospective meetings - those regular team huddles meant to foster continuous improvement. But do we really know how to run them effectively in an agile way that brings the development team together rather than divides them?

Many teams view retrospectives as dredging up problems and assigning blame. The team walks away feeling beat down. But when done right, these meetings can be energizing. They build trust, ownership, and alignment around what truly matters - delivering value to customers.

That's what agile retrospectives are all about. They're not about pointing fingers. They're about the team honestly inspecting their efforts, then adjusting and improving in positive ways. The goal is to identify what's working well so you can keep doing those things. And discuss what's not working so well so you can change course. The focus is always on improving the process. The result is a team that feels heard, aligned, and energized to deliver their best work in the next sprint.

Sound like something your team could benefit from? Read on to learn more!

What is a sprint retrospective?

The sprint retrospective is the chance for the team to pause, reflect, and improve. It's an opportunity to inspect how the last sprint went and adapt for the next.

Unlike other scrum ceremonies focused on tangible work artifacts like user stories and product increments, the retrospective turn the mirror inward to the team itself. It asks: how well did we work together? What could we do better next time?

A good retrospective feels like a conversation among friends about a shared experience. Team members speak openly and honestly, with trust and empathy. Ideas are freely exchanged without judgment.

The scrum master plays an important role in facilitating this environment. They set the stage, guide the dialogue, draw out insights, and ensure actions are captured.

It’s not about finding blame or making individuals uncomfortable. The focus should be on the system, not the people. What processes or practices could improve?

By regularly inspecting and adapting their collaboration, teams build bonds and capabilities. Over time, excellence becomes a habit. The retrospective helps strike the right balance - celebrating successes while still seeking improvement.

What is the Agenda of an Agile Retrospective Meeting?

Here is a sample agenda for an Agile retrospective meeting:

  • Welcome and Set the Stage (5 mins): The Scrum master kicks off the meeting, reviews the agenda, and sets expectations

  • Reflect on Previous Sprint (10 mins): Each member reflects individually about what went well and what can be improved

  • Gather Feedback (15 mins): Team shares thoughts, perspectives, and ideas in an open discussion

  • Identify Action Items (15 mins): Collaboratively prioritize areas of improvement and decide on solutions

  • Wrap Up (5 mins): Recap agreements, next steps, and close out meeting

The times are a suggestion, but the key segments should flow in this order to align the team, gather multiple viewpoints, and decide on changes to implement in the next sprint. The scrum master facilitates each segment to draw out insights and gain alignment.

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How to Run a Successful Retrospective Meeting in 7 Easy Steps


1. Set the Stage 

The first step to running a successful agile retrospective meeting is to prep the stage. One of the main purposes of retrospectives is to empower teams to share their voices openly. Send out an anonymous survey before the retro to gather candid feedback without pressure. Assure participants their thoughts will be kept anonymous. Make it clear no one will be blamed - this is about improving as a team.

Make sure to give your team a context for discussion. Share relevant data like burndown charts with the group beforehand to ground the conversation in facts. Avoid debating perceptions - stick to objective measures.

With hybrid teams, use digital whiteboards and video conferencing to enable equal contribution, whether co-located or remote. Make sure the technology doesn't get in the way.

Invite the relevant stakeholders— but don’t overload the meeting. Only include those actively involved in the sprint for focused discussion. But make sure all key perspectives are represented.

2. Start the retrospective

Now, it’s time to start the retrospective. Start the meeting with a quick icebreaker or energizer activity to get the team engaged and thinking creatively. Laughter and movement get the mind ready to collaborate.

Clearly state the purpose of the meeting - this is a no-blame assessment of what worked well, what didn't, and how to improve going forward. Emphasize crucial ground rules like psychological safety, active listening without interruption, and respecting diverse opinions. This sets the tone.

As a facilitator, demonstrate the constructive mindset and communication style you expect from others. This gives the team permission to interact in the same way. Also, provide a clear agenda and meeting flow. Lastly, check if everyone understands and agrees to stay on track. Adjust based on feedback.

3. Review the project or sprint

In this third step, ask your team to review the sprint or project together. Use neutral prompts like "What went well?" and "What could be improved?" to draw out perspectives from all team members. As facilitator, listen intently without interruption. 

Ask follow-up questions to get clarity and explore nuance. If some are dominating, actively invite quieter voices into the dialogue. The goal is multiple lenses on the same experience.

Capture feedback digitally as it emerges. Organize and group comments into categories to identify patterns and themes. Stick to observable data, not perceptions.

Here are some key questions the team should be able to answer by the end of this step: 

  • What went well during the sprint/project?

  • What didn't go so well or could be improved?

  • What specific actions can we take to improve in the next sprint/project?

  • What processes or practices should we start doing to enhance our effectiveness?

  • What processes or practices should we stop doing that are not working?

  • Where are there gaps or obstacles impeding our team's performance?

  • What risks or issues need addressing going forward?

  • How can we improve collaboration, communication, or other team dynamics?

  • What support or resources do we need to perform better as a team?

4. Seek for Insights

The facilitator plays a crucial role in digging deeper during the reflection process. Simply capturing feedback is not enough - deliberate effort is required to derive meaning from the raw data.

If multiple people cite communication problems, probe on specifics - is it a lack of clarity, limited visibility, or siloed working? Framing issues in terms of systems and processes rather than individual mistakes or failures reduces emotion and blame.

Listen closely for patterns and trends across different perspectives. Does the language or word choice of multiple participants point to underlying cultural or relationship dynamics? Surface recurring themes to drive clarity and alignment.

5. Brainstorm Collaborative Opportunities

With the key insights identified, prompt the team to brainstorm solutions or process improvements. Combine duplicate or complementary ideas. Then guide the team to vote on which solutions seem most impactful and feasible to implement right now.

Drive discussion towards agreement on the top 2-3 improvement opportunities to pursue. Get buy-in and clarity from all on the next steps.

6. Commit to Actions

End the meeting with clear owners, timelines, and next steps for implementing improvements. The goal is positive change.

For example, if "improve release planning process" is identified as an improvement opportunity, specific action items could include:

  • Update release planning docs/templates by Friday (owner: Amanda)

  • Schedule 30 min lessons learned review before next planning session (owner: Carlos)

  • Identify repeated estimate misses for action in sprint retrospective (owner: project team)

  • Revisit release plan 2 days before end of sprint for adjustments (owner: scrum master)

Document all action items in the sprint board or tool with owners and due dates assigned. Track progress during stand-ups. The scrum master owns follow through and notes any roadblocks the team runs into. 

7. Wrap up the Retrospective 

Recap the main takeaways, improvement opportunities, and action items captured during the retrospective. Confirm shared understanding of what was decided. Thank everyone for leaning in to have a thoughtful, productive discussion. Celebrate the team's dedication to continuous improvement.

End on an upbeat note, looking ahead to how improvements will help optimize the next sprint. The team is energized and focused going forward. Effectively wrapping up the retrospective instills clarity, alignment, and commitment. 

Types of Agile Retrospective Meeting Techniques

  • 1Start/Stop/Continue: A simple technique where the team reflects on what processes they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing.
  • 2Dot Voting: Participants brainstorm ideas and then vote on the ones they feel are most impactful by placing dot stickers next to them. The ideas with the most votes are prioritized.
  • 3Glad/Mad/Sad - Team members share things that made them glad, mad, or sad related to the sprint. Looks at the emotional impact of work.
  • 4Plus/Delta - The team highlights positive elements to continue (pluses) and areas for improvement (deltas). Focuses on what to amplify and change.
  • 5Speed Boat - Using a picture of a speed boat, participants label anchors slowing them down and winds/currents moving them forward. Visualizes obstacles and motivators.
  • 64 Ls - Team reflects on what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for in the sprint. Covers appreciation, growth, gaps, and aspirations.
  • 7Timeline/Journey - Key events, milestones, challenges etc. are plotted on a timeline to tell the story of the sprint retrospectively. Illustrates causality.
  • 8One Word - Each person summarizes the sprint in one word. Compares emotional sentiment and creates a word cloud.
  • 9Past 2 Months Map - Team visually maps major occurrences from the past 2-3 sprints. Shows relationships between events.
  • 10Question Cards - Participants write questions anonymously to safely raise difficult issues and have blunt discussions.

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Best Tips to Host a Successful Retrospective 

The goal of an agile retrospective is to drive continuous improvement, transparency, and team cohesion. And, to get the best out of a retrospective meeting, you can follow these rules while allowing some flexibility to adapt to the team’s needs:

  • Set a time limit. Retrospectives should be 30-45 minutes per week of sprint. Limit the meeting to 1-2 hours maximum and take breaks for longer meetings. This keeps the discussion focused and avoids fatigue.

  • Choose an experienced facilitator. The facilitator, often the scrum master, keeps the meeting on track, guides the discussion, and ensures participation from everyone. Rotate this role occasionally for different perspectives.

  • Use an agenda and framework. Prepare an agenda in advance around a structured framework like 4Ls (Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed for) or Start, Stop, Continue. This gives the discussion direction and productivity.

  • Encourage transparency. Set ground rules that criticism should be constructive and focused on work, not people, to promote open and honest feedback essential for improvement.

  • Promote shared responsibility. Regardless of outcomes, reinforce that the team collectively owns successes and failures. This builds accountability and unity.

  • Capture action items and share notes. The meeting should conclude with concrete next steps and action items. Share notes afterward to reinforce learning and follow through.

  • Keep it engaging. Occasionally, use games, activities, and fun themes to stimulate creative thinking and full participation in an open environment. The right atmosphere sets the foundation.

  • Avoid the mistake of only discussing the pitfalls of the sprint that happened earlier. Celebrate what the team accomplished to build momentum and set a positive tone for discussing improvements.

Wrapping Up

The retrospective meeting plays a crucial role in continuous improvement. By reviewing their ways of working and adapting based on objective evidence, teams can continuously improve performance over time. 

With an experienced retrospective facilitator guiding the meeting, with the right questions, and framework, team open up to honestly share diverse perspectives.


The ideal length of sprint is 30-45 minutes per week. So, for a 2-week sprint, aim for a 1-1.5 hour retrospective. Shorter, regular meetings are better than marathon sessions.

Best practice is to conduct retrospectives once per sprint. If sprints are longer (3-4 weeks), schedule an additional midpoint retrospective to quickly inspect progress and adapt as needed. For shorter sprints of 1 week, some teams do bi-weekly retrospectives covering 2 sprints to allow enough time to take action on improvements.

Track both process and outcome metrics:

Process measures:

  • Sprint retrospective completion rate

  • % team member participation and engagement

  • Number of action items identified per retrospective

  • % of retrospective action items successfully implemented

Outcome measures:

  • Team velocity/story point completion over time

  • Number of production defects or hotfixes per sprint

  • Net Promoter Score (customer/user satisfaction)

  • Sprint success rate (hitting sprint goals)


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