How to Conduct Effective Retrospectives

Conducting Better Retrospectives

Organizations are increasingly moving to Agile and getting benefits like faster time to market, increased customer satisfaction, reduced risks and improvements in quality and teamwork. Scrum is one of the widely used framework within Agile and is based on incremental and iterative ways of development. According to the Scrum Guide, Scrum is a lightweight framework founded on empirical process control theory that supports small teams in addressing complex adaptive problems while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.

During each sprint, the team conducts each of the following Scrum ceremonies:

  • Sprint Planning

  • Daily Scrum

  • Sprint Review

  • Sprint Retrospective

  • Backlog Grooming or Refinement


Retrospectives are ceremonies where Agile meets Kaizen. They are formal private meetings where the entire team meets and inspects the last sprint, finds out the improvement opportunities and identifies the immediate action items to be executed in the next sprint.

Effective Retrospectives rely on three pillars of Scrum – Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation and five values of Scrum – Openness, Respect, Commitment, Focus and Courage.

Retrospectives and the three pillars of Scrum

Transparency: Retrospectives need to be transparent and inclusive. Diverse views and opinions need to be discussed solely focusing on issues and not on the team members. A culture of honesty, trust and integrity need to be established within the team which will set the platform for productive retrospectives.

Inspection and Adaptation: Retrospectives are a good opportunity to inspect and adapt on the team’s behavior and processes. The Scrum master, who is facilitating this needs to be neutral, unbiased and should not be influencing others with his or her opinions or thoughts. He or she can set some ground rules like maintaining secrecy and no blame-games so that team members can discuss without any fear of any backlash.

Retrospectives and Five values of Scrum

Retrospectives also relate to the five values of Scrum – Openness, Respect, Commitment, Focus and Courage. In fact, without them, there would be no point in having these ceremonies.

Openness: Scrum team members are open and transparent about voicing their concerns, challenges and issues and discussing them in retrospectives. Scrum master needs to be play a constructive part in motivating them and providing a free and fair atmosphere.

Respect: Team members participating in retrospectives need to have respect for each other’s opinions and views. They have respect for diversity and have complete belief in Scrum principles and values. Scrum master can help in improving each other’s ideas and collaborate with them to bring out an action plan for implementation. He or she can invite team members to appreciate each other’s work. The appreciation can be recorded and shared across the organization.

Commitment: The scrum team members believe in continuous improvement and self-organization. They stay committed to participating in Retrospectives and do not miss any time. The Scrum master can make the retrospectives more interesting by adopting new techniques by referring to the site (

Focus: The retrospectives need to be focused on how the team can improve sprint after sprint, being transparent and implementing the action plan devised for improvements. The team can focus on the top two or three improvement points identified during the retrospective, rather than focusing on all of them. They need to follow up on the action items identified during the earlier retrospective and complete them based on the priority decided. The Scrum master checks whether the team successfully put the improvements into practice; if not, the retrospective discussion needs to be focused towards that.

Courage: During retrospectives, the Scrum team needs to have the courage to take the right steps and show the tenacity to follow up and implement it in spite of various challenges. The Scrum master can set some ground rules like allowing each person to speak completely and presenting facts/insights to the team. Additionally, he or she can prevent outside influences from attending the retrospectives.

By imbibing the three pillars of Scrum and the five values into the retrospectives, the team can transform into a self-organizing team and build trust within the team.