The Sprint Retrospective is the last event in Scrum occurring at the end of the sprint. It is a private and safe session for Scrum team members only and facilitated by the Scrum Master. It is used to identify what went well, what did not go so well, and what can be improved.* It is important to discuss what went well so that you can celebrate successes and when the team feels certain things are going well.
A sprint retrospective promotes continuous team improvement. The areas that did not go so well are rated by the team as to which were the most problematic. The team takes the top 2 or 3 of these problematic areas and identifies the root cause. Root cause analysis ensures that the real challenge is uncovered so the team crafts a solution that will resolve the problem. An improvement action is established for each problematic area. Then the team commits to a couple of these improvement actions to be worked on in the next sprint.
The retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to reflect on the past sprint’s activities including team dynamics, processes, tools, and culture. It supports the Agile principle of self-organizing teams. In order to really get to the nitty-gritty of the problem areas, sometimes “dirty laundry” needs to be discussed. This includes taking a hard look at the problems.
In order for the team to feel comfortable in airing problems, the team needs to feel that they can trust each other. Team members must believe they can discuss problems knowing that anything said will stay in the room. If what is discussed in the retrospective gets communicated outside of the room, folks on the team will be less likely to raise and discuss problems. And discussing and resolving problems is what the retrospective is all about. This is why it is important to discourage outsiders, particularly any managers of the team members from attending these sessions. When outsiders attend, you often see far fewer real problems get raised. Outsiders may not understand the context of why a team made a decision or did something a certain way which can lead to inappropriate judgments.
The retrospective only has value when the team discusses problems in a sincere manner, has a safe environment to discuss problems, and provides a strong commitment to resolving the problems to the benefit of the whole team. So keep all of this in mind when you hold a Sprint Retrospective and remember, what happens in a retrospective stays in a retrospective!
* An alternative approach is to discuss what we should stop doing, continue doing, and start doing.