Today we are going to talk about another Scrum concept called a Sprint Retrospective. What is it? How does it work in scrum teams? Why is it useful? And how can we apply it to our own personal productivity?
What is Sprint Retrospective?
A sprint retrospective is a recurring meeting held at the end of a sprint used to discuss what went well during the previous sprint cycle and what can be improved for the next sprint.
In short, this is an opportunity to reflect on a previous sprint before jumping into your next one. It is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes as soon as possible so that the team does not keep repeating the same mistakes and experiencing the same issues over and over again.
Sprint Retrospective Meeting
A product owner sets up an online board with three columns, one for each sprint retrospective question. And these questions are:
- What went well in this sprint?
- What could be improved?
- What will we commit to improve in the next sprint?
There are many apps that help you set up these boards. Right now, we are using easyretro.io. You can also use tools such as Miro, Asana, JIRA, or a simple Google doc.
What I find the most interesting part of the process is that team members submit cards to these columns anonymously. Anonymity allows team members to be as honest as possible. And this is the single biggest difference between how a review meeting happens in scrum/agile teams compared to your traditional teams. In traditional teams, you sit in a room, then your manager asks the team how the project went or how the month was. Everyone is kind of shy and scared at the same time. No one talks. Everyone pretends as everything went well. Then they leave a meeting, go for a coffee and start gossiping about how terrible the project went.
Because it wasn’t brought up in the meeting and the manager’s not aware of all these issues, nothing changes. During the next project, the same things happen. Everyone is super frustrated because bad things keep happening, but how would they change if there is no regular, honest feedback happening? In scrum teams, even the most insecure, shy and scared person can submit a card and express his or her concerns.
Coming back to the nitty-gritty of a scrum retrospective meeting, you can either ask the team members to submit their anonymous cards before the meeting or give everyone 5 minutes at the beginning of the meeting to submit the cards.
Again, no one sees what you’re typing or what you’re submitting. It’s anonymous. Then you ask people to read through other cards and upvote the ones they agree with. Some of the tools allow you to merge the cards into some common theme.
Then you sort your cards by upvotes and start discussing each card. Then the team decides on how it can be improved going forward. No one feels at fault here.
The team decides how to work. Not the manager.
This is another thing that is different in scrum and agile compared to a traditional method. It’s the team’s job to decide how a certain issue will be addressed. It’s not a product manager’s job to tell them how to fix it. They decide how they can improve and because they came up with this solution, they are more motivated to commit to it.
It’s not a top-down approach.
Advantages of sprint retrospective
#1. It allows them to regularly review the team dynamic.
The key word here is regular. It happens every sprint. Not when there is a change in leadership. Not when it is a certain day on the calendar (January 1st, beginning of Q2). Because it happens regularly, it becomes normal. What is considered normal is what truly defined the company culture and how things get done.
#2. The best tool I know so far to deal with the toxic culture
I’m not saying that it is the best tool period. I’m saying it is the best tool I’ve seen used so far. The best thing I’ve seen in traditional teams is some sort of HR performance review once a year. And it’s not actually your place to express any concerns. It’s more of an opportunity for managers to give you feedback about your performance.
Oh, wait. There’s actually an opportunity to express all your concerns in traditional teams. That’s when you quit and have your exit interview.
#3. Everyone is heard.
Under traditional teams, the loudest and most confident people are often the ones that are heard. If you are shy or don’t feel comfortable talking in public, you rarely get a chance to influence your team’s dynamic. You might have the best idea, but it will never get implemented. Scrum employs an anonymous approach, all ideas are heard and evaluated independently of who they were presented by.
#4. Change happens fast.
The final benefit I want to highlight is that with this approach, change happens fast. Remember the last question, “What will we commit to improve in the next sprint?” It is very proactive. What I often saw happening in the traditional teams is that even if you’re lucky enough to have a leader who wants to hear your feedback on a regular basis, it always just ends up being a group therapy session.
Everyone is given an opportunity just to speak up, but there are no actionable points drawn from this meeting. “Okay, what do we do now?” No one knows. As a result, the same things continue to happen. Under Scrum, you can change things starting next spring. It is very fast.
Sprint Retrospective for Personal Productivity
Let’s see how you as an individual can have a regular sprint retrospective meeting with yourself as a team of one.
Under the monthly method, you do your sprint retrospective on day one of your week four. Our sprints last for three weeks. Then you take a week off. You do this print review on the first day of your week off or on the last day of your sprint. You can simply copy-paste the questions from their original scrum guide.
Again, the questions are:
- What went well in the sprint?
- What could be improved?
- What will we commit to improve in the next sprint?
I’ve changed them to Stop, Start and Continue questions.
- Review your sprint and select one thing you should stop doing to make the next sprint a little bit more productive. Remember, you’re looking for incremental changes nothing major or life-changing.
- Select one thing you should start doing to make the next sprint a little better.
- Select one thing that really helped you during the last sprint and you want to continue doing it during the next sprint.
Start with just one thing for each of the questions. The more comfortable you become with the sprint planning, the more things you can add under each column.
If you want to have a complete sprint retrospective template with all the questions (there are two additional questions not discussed in this post), download the free PDF guide.
Examples of STOP, START, CONTINUE answers
Recent examples of the STOP question.
- Stop charging phone next to his bed because he kept scrolling too late into the night.
- Stop seeing more than six clients a day.
- Stop responding to work emails after 9:00 PM.
Recent examples of the START question.
- Someone wanted to start going to bed before 11:00 PM.
- Start limiting social commitment to 2/week.
- Start going to the grocery store on Sundays.
Recent examples of the CONTINUE question.
- A lot of my clients want to continue time-blocking their workdays.
- Continue using the 10X coffee practice.
- Continue to take regular breaks throughout the day.
- Continue packing lunch the night before.
- Some of my clients want to continue meditating.
- Continue going to church or temple on Sundays.
As you can see here, a lot of them are just lifestyle choices, nothing major.
Even if you don’t do sprint planning as your main productivity system, consider doing a monthly review at the end of each month. You can book it on your calendar for the last day of the month and go through these 3 questions.
- What should they stop doing next month?
- What should they start doing next month?
- What worked really well for me during this month, so that they can continue doing it the next month?
If you want to learn more about applying Agile to your life:
- How to Use Product Backlog for Personal Productivity
- Sprint Capacity for Personal Productivity
- Sprint Planning for Personal Productivity
- How to Use Definition of Done for Personal Productivity
- Daily Standup for Personal Productivity
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