Reviewing recent projects is inspiring — when the work went well. But you might hesitate to look back when execution went poorly.

Whether you’re hesitant or not, putting aside time for reflection is essential to team improvement.

The authors of the agile manifesto highlighted the principle of regular reflection and continuous improvement when they wrote, “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” While they didn’t specify the term “agile retrospective,” this principle suggests such a practice.

Over time, agile methodologies such as Scrum formalized the retrospective as a structured means for the team to review and learn from recent sprints.

What’s an agile retrospective?

An agile retrospective is a team meeting where everyone reflects on a sprint’s outcomes.

The focus of a retrospective meeting in agile is to help the whole team, including the Scrum Master and product manager, understand the successes and failures of past sprints. You then use this understanding to create a plan of action and foster continuous improvement in rhythm with the team’s natural sprint workflow.

Why are agile retrospectives important?

Agile retrospectives help your team scale effectively by habitually finding ways to improve. Further benefits of a retro include:

  • Team bonding: Regularly discussing and reflecting on work encourages open communication. These discussions build trust among team members and allow everyone to work more effectively together.
  • Problem identification: By reflecting on the previous sprint, you can pinpoint issues that hinder your performance for the future sprint. And early identification allows for quicker resolution.
  • Solution brainstorming: In an agile retrospective, ideas from the team are shared regarding potential solutions to issues.
  • Accountability: Regularly reviewing past actions encourages team members to take responsibility for their work.
  • Celebrating successes: Not only does the retrospective focus on continuous improvement, but it’s also a time to acknowledge what the team did well. Celebrating these successes boosts everyone’s morale and encourages your team to remain motivated to achieve further success.

What’s discussed in agile retrospective meetings?

There aren’t any hard rules for what to discuss during a team retrospective meeting. Rather, the Scrum Master facilitates the conversation based on team needs. That said, it’s common Scrum practice to discuss technical details, methods for better collaboration, and actionable plans for future sprints.

The main focus of the discussion should be finding better ways to move forward together. Together, the team makes a clear plan that includes roles, responsibilities, and techniques to address improvement areas.

How to run a retrospective: 7 techniques

Here are seven techniques for conducting an effective retrospective. This list includes a variety of methods you can use intermittently to keep your retros fresh and exciting over time.

1. Start, stop, continue

Create a three-column table: things to start doing, things to stop doing, and things to continue doing. Ask your team for feedback on what to include in each column, and use that as your roadmap moving forward.

2. 4 L’s: Liked, learned, lacked, longed for

As a team, reflect on the previous sprint and categorize everyone’s input into one of these four categories. Make a plan to emphasize the areas of “liked” and “learned” and minimize areas of “lacked” and “longed for.”

3. 5 Whys

Get to the root of an issue by asking “Why?” five times in succession when someone voices an opinion about how the previous sprint went. Consider using sticky notes to create an easy-to-read flowchart for each answer. This technique illuminates the issue’s root cause, helping you discover underlying problems or reasons for success.

Here’s how an app development team might use this technique:

  1. Why didn’t users like the app’s interface as much as we’d expected?
  2. Why didn’t they like the color scheme?
  3. Why didn’t the colors look the same on both desktop and mobile?
  4. Why didn’t we make the app responsive to all screen and device types?
  5. Why didn’t we have the budget to create this responsiveness?

The team can now focus on this budgeting issue and figure out a way to create better app responsiveness.

4. Priority voting

After gathering feedback, team members vote on the most pressing issues. Use the votes during your next sprint planning meeting as you prioritize the backlog to show the team their opinion is valuable and worth sharing.

5. Happiness measuring

Ask team members to rate their happiness on a scale during the retrospective. Plot results over time and use this chart to gain insight into the team’s mood and morale over different sprints.

6. Three little pigs

Based on the classic story, this technique asks the team to categorize feedback under three houses:

  • The house of straw: Things that didn’t hold up.
  • The house of sticks: Things that partially worked.
  • The house of bricks: Strong practices to continue.

Use this feedback to develop a roadmap for future success.

7. Roadmap review

A project roadmap is a highly effective retrospective tool to help your team visualize a project’s progress. Reviewing your roadmap during a retrospective offers the following benefits:

  • Visualization: A clear visual representation of the work helps identify successful factors and those that require improvement.
  • Alignment with the vision: Roadmaps make it easy to see if the team’s sprint efforts align with the larger product or company vision.
  • Milestone check: You can look at a roadmap to quickly check on milestones to see achievements and what you can do to reach goals sooner.
  • Future planning: By reflecting on past sprints using a roadmap, teams can make more informed decisions about the future and adjust based on insights gathered.

Best practices for agile retrospectives

An agile retrospective may seem simple in theory, but it can take some practice to make them effective. Follow these best practices to get the most from your retrospective:

  • Create a safe space: To gather genuine feedback, create a safe environment for your team. Cultivate a culture where team members can speak freely without fear of retribution.
  • Define a clear structure: Follow a set structure to help your team feel comfortable and engaged. The structure could include an icebreaker, an agenda, or any other activity to help the team get into the right mindset.
  • Facilitate actively: Ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak. Watch for dominating voices and encourage quieter team members to share their perspectives.
  • Follow through on action items: Make sure everyone understands their responsibilities moving forward. Check in on progress regularly to ensure accountability.

What to avoid during agile retrospectives

If your team feels the retrospective isn’t helpful, they’ll quickly disengage. And a disengaged team won’t learn as much from reflection sessions. To ensure engagement and participation, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Running from tough conversations: If you only discuss what went well, retrospectives quickly lose their value. Difficult discussions are paramount to encourage growth.
  • Failing to act on feedback: Consistently ignoring action items from previous retrospectives erodes trust in the process. Teams may feel that the retrospectives won’t lead to meaningful outcomes.
  • Skipping retrospectives: You might be tempted to skip retrospectives, especially when you’re already busy with the backlog for your next sprint. But when you miss retrospectives, you miss opportunities for improvement.

Choosing the right tool for your team

When conducting an agile retrospective, a roadmap is one of the best tools you can use. This visualization helps you prioritize ideas, manage deadlines, and prepare for upcoming sprints.

Roadmunk by Tempo makes creating audience-friendly roadmaps for your whole team easy. With Roadmunk, every stakeholder can quickly access an easy-to-read visual outline of the team’s progress to learn more from the past — and plan for the future. And this tool easily integrates with Jira to supply your dashboards, metrics, and insights with in-depth data.

To improve your agile retrospectives and help your team learn more from past sprints, sign up for Roadmunk and discover a suite of project management tools to optimize your operations.