Jun 262017
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Agile project management, agile software development, agile methodology, agile transformation, agile adoption – all these words are buzzwords! Now regardless of the industry and the size of the company companies switch to agile way of working. It’s not that easy, it takes time to, but agile teams naturally get better over time. However, when teams become more efficient, the risk of fail rises because teams start to miss important steps in agile project management and one of them is sprint retrospective. And this article is about it!

When teams performing well, it’s all too easy to skip a sprint retrospective because they feel that they are already good enough. This article explores why Sprint Retrospectives are always an essential part of team development and project management. It explains how it helps to achieve continuous improvement and efficiency.

In different companies it is called differently, sometimes it is “sprint retrospective”, sometimes “iteration retrospective”, sometimes “sprint retro”, sometimes just “retrospective”. The sprint retrospective is an opportunity for the team to look at its work processes, identify the strengths and weaknesses, problems and doubts, and plan for improvements to be addressed in the next sprint.

Sprint retrospectives are used to adapt the way of working, making processes better.

If you are working with clients you should also include client side team members. This can sometimes feel intimidating, because you don’t want to wash dirty clothes in front of your client, but transparency will pay off. Better to fix problems together rather than lose clients because you haven’t adapted to their needs.

Maybe you will think that it is a pointless lose of time, but according to our experience in Apiumhub, working for big companies and for growing startups, we should say that retrospectives really help teams to solve problems and improve themselves!

How it works ?

The whole team attends the retrospective meeting, where they “inspect” how the iteration, sprint has been done, and decide what and how they want to “adapt” their processes to improve.  The actions coming out of a retrospective are communicated and done in the next iteration. That makes retrospectives an effective way to do short cycled improvement and adapt to the changing circumstances. Read more about it in Ben Linders’ blog here.

There are many techniques to do retrospectives. There is actually a good book about agile retrospectives, where you will find all detailed information. But just to give you some examples, you may do it by asking questions, stating your feelings with 1 word, 5 times why to identify Root Causes, solution focused and retrospective of retrospectives. If you want to learn more about restoratives times and tools, I recommend you to read this article.

Retrospectives are fun! To assure that actions  from a retrospective are done, they can be brought into the planning game, and made visible by putting them on the planning board. User stories can be used to plan and track bigger improvements, describing who, what and why. It reunites the team and make team members work together, think about problems and solutions together! Each person participates in the process, every voice counts here!

Typical questions could be: What went well during the Sprint? What went wrong during the sprint cycle? What could have gone better during the Sprint? What could we do differently to improve in the future?

We strongly believe that answering these questions and regularly doing sprint retrospective creates an important mechanism that allows a team to continuously evolve and improve throughout the life of a project. It helps to support team formation, particularly as any areas of conflict can be identified and dealt with. But what is important here – is to do it right!

Key elements of the sprint retrospective

Process improvements are made at the end of every sprint. This ensures that the project team is always improving the way it works. As discussed, the retrospective is a collaborative process among all members and all people should say how they think the sprint went.

  1. All team members identify what went well and what could be improved.
  2. The team members discuss the process that they are following and give any suggestions for improvement.
  3. The team members discuss any other ideas that could improve their productivity.
  4. After an initial list of ideas has been brainstormed, teams will commonly vote on specific items to focus on during the coming sprint.
  5. Prioritize actions,items and lessons learned based on team direction.
  6. At the end team has it clear what they start doing, stop doing and continue doing.

At the end of the sprint, the next retrospective is often begun by reviewing the list of things selected for attention in the prior sprint retrospective. An effective retrospective will normally result in decisions, leading to action items; it’s a mistake to have too few or too many. One or two improvement ideas per iteration retrospective may well be enough. Identical issues coming up at each retrospective, without measurable improvement over time, may signal that the retrospective has become an empty ritual.

Benefits of sprint retrospective

  • Power to the team. Everybody in the team should participate and take ownership. Members feel empowered because they can work on the issues that are important for them. Therefore, there will be little resistance to do the changes that need to be done. Explicit opportunities to improve the team’s performance.
  • Create transparency and trust. Team members discuss problems and success stories openly. Being transparent and truthful about the good, bad and ugly creates trust among the team members. Retrospectives is a good time to talk about frustrations, share their feelings with others to find ways to manage it as soon as possible.
  • Boost team spirit. Retrospective meetings are good for team building, especially for a new team. When the team has not worked together before, retrospectives will help to break the ice and bring the team closer together. Discussing success stories, giving feedback and looking for solutions for the problems together will give a boost to team spirit and energy level. It is kind of team energizer. An essential place where the team gets together and gets excited as they find new ways and new possibilities to work on the current project better.
  • Discover risks and problems early. Retrospectives are also a good risk management tool because they allow to discover issues as early as possible. With retrospectives they are brought on the table sooner and this gives more time to react and solve them. The meeting results should also give a hint how the team is moving towards the project goals and gives a good possibility to sense team’s attitude towards achieving these goals.
  • Learn and adapt. One of the most important agile principles is constant learning and improving. Retrospective meeting is a powerful tool for achieving this. It provides a possibility for the team to propose solutions for the issues, look ways for improvement in the process, discover new opportunities together, adapt to changes, share feedback to each other’s work and many more.
  • Continuous Improvement. One of key aspects of agile is the idea of continuous improvement and, more importantly, the idea of improving for the project on which team members are currently working, rather than simply thinking about how you can better yourself for future projects. Doing Sprint Retrospective meetings gives this perfect opportunity to spread this message and allow the team to discover for themselves what they can do better as a team. People should be able to see the progress.

We strongly believe that being agile means doing retrospectives, means adapt to changes and constantly improve. Retrospectives unite the team and make it more efficient!

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    Ekaterina Novoseltseva is a CMO at Apiumhub – software development hub, which is specialized in web & mobile app design and development.

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