The Ultimate Guide to Sprint Retrospectives

Sprint retrospectives are a foundational element of Scrum project management. When done right, a sprint retrospective can help teams improve their processes for future sprints and see better results in less time. When done wrong, they can result in interpersonal conflicts and wasted resources. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to master sprint retrospectives with project management tools like Gantt charts, detailed tasks, and automated data reporting — all within Wrike. 

What is a sprint retrospective?

A sprint retrospective is a review of a past period of work. It’s used to evaluate both team and individual performance. Insights gained from a sprint retrospective informs the next sprint so that it can be even more successful than the last. 

To best understand what a sprint retrospective is, we can look at what each word means separately. 

  • A sprint in project management is a short period of time (days or weeks). Every sprint has a set of assigned tasks and a clear deadline. Sprints are used in Scrum project management (an Agile framework) to break larger phases into smaller, more manageable chunks. 
  • A retrospective is a formal analysis held to review past work. Participants in this meeting take an honest look at what went well and what didn’t. Retrospectives show people what they can do better in the future. 

A sprint retrospective aims to optimize systems, reduce potential roadblocks, and stay on track to meet big picture goals. 

What is the difference between sprint review and sprint retrospective?

The biggest difference between a sprint review and a sprint retrospective is the goal each attempts to achieve. 

A sprint review is used to discuss what happened during the project. Sprint reviews are typically limited to managers and team leads. The information gathered in a sprint review will be shared with other relevant stakeholders and collaborators afterward. 

A sprint retrospective is used to discuss how a sprint went with an emphasis on process and workflow. The entire Scrum team attends these meetings to provide their boots on the ground feedback. Anything learned during a sprint retrospective is put into action during the next sprint. 

What is a sprint retrospective meeting?

A sprint retrospective meeting is a formal gathering of Scrum teams and stakeholders to go over a previous sprint. During the meeting, they create a concrete plan for applying those insights in the future. 

A sprint retrospective usually takes place the day after a sprint finishes or immediately following a sprint review. The goal is to have minimal lag time between that one and the next. 

What happens in a sprint retrospective meeting?

A sprint retrospective meeting is a discussion that everyone participates in. But if you’re wondering what happens explicitly, here’s an agenda breakdown every organizer needs to know: 

  • Set the tone
    Sprint retrospectives often turn into open forums. To keep it from becoming a free for all employee review, make sure the team is laser-focused by setting the tone upfront. Here’s how: 
  • Make introductions
    Introductions help team members, stakeholders, and freelancers quickly understand who is in the room and why. Quickly listing everyone’s name and role on the project is enough.
  • Highlight individual wins 
    Choose one specific thing to highlight about each person during this past sprint. If the list is long, share it in your project management platform where everyone can see it.
  • Have a good attitude
    Showing a strong, confident, and positive attitude about the meeting from the very beginning encourages others to do the same no matter what kind of day they had. Encourage the host to greet everyone when they come into the physical or virtual room. 

1. Explain how it works

Go over the purpose of the meeting, what will be discussed, and when you plan to wrap things up. If you have a speaking order planned, share that now. Otherwise, use the hand raise feature on your virtual conferencing platform or kick it off with your observations. 

2. Structure feedback

The most important thing to remember about sprint retrospectives is that they are meant to analyze your team’s process, not its employees. Alienating individuals is counterproductive here. Instead, frame any issues as a group concern and address them as such — even if the person responsible has to come up with a fix. 

Go a step further and explain how you want feedback to be given to keep the conversation on track. 

Here’s an effective feedback formula for sprint retrospectives:

  • The biggest win
  • The biggest challenge
  • Relevant question or request

Feedback can be given in a round-robin format for smaller teams. Or, if your team is larger than 10 people, ask for volunteer speakers ahead of time, then leave room at the end for additional comments. 

Need help getting people to participate? Narrow the conversation down to a simple question: what’s your no-nuance take on how the sprint went in one sentence? 

3. Keep an eye on the time

In a 45-minute meeting, teams should allocate:

  • Five minutes for initial introductions and agenda review.
  • 30 minutes of evenly divided speaking time.
  • 10 minutes to create a list of action steps in order by priority with an implementation plan for each.

Sprint retrospectives are meant to be efficient, which means not every concern can be fully addressed in the given timeframe. The solution? Brainstorm a list of all concerns, then as a team, put them in order from most impactful to least impactful. 

Quickly identify how many you plan to get through during this meeting. Whatever isn’t discussed by the time the session is over will be set aside for after the next sprint. If those issues come up again, put them at the top of the list this time. Rinse and repeat. 

Have a designated timekeeper who feels comfortable interrupting wandering thoughts and bringing the group back together after tangents. 

Pro tip: Put your a long-winded team member up for the job. They’ll be hyper-aware of how much they need to summarize their own thoughts.  

4. Go over reports

Sprint retrospectives tend to be anecdotal. However, opinions alone won’t help your next sprint success. Each statement or choice needs to be supported by real data. You can:

  • Source reports from Wrike.
  • Review Gantt charts for bottlenecks.
  • Review conversations right within delayed or failed tasks on Wrike to see how each roadblock was navigated.

Share the sprint reports with everyone in the meeting ahead of time so they can come prepared with questions. When notifying your team, give them one or two main ideas they can reflect on to keep them focused. 

Some great report-related questions to ask include: 

  • Did anything unexpected happen during this sprint? How were roadblocks handled? Would you take the same approach again? 
  • What deadlines were met? How can we replicate that success moving forward? 
  • Were resources distributed to best support the team, or will adjustments need to be made moving forward? 

Bring or link copies of these reports within your meeting invitation for people to refer to on the day. 

5. Turn ideas into action

Before the meeting is over, come up with at least one concrete takeaway from the last sprint with details such as:

  • What the issue was
  • How it affected the project
  • What tasks will be assigned to prevent it from happening again?
  • Who is in charge of completing and approving that task or tasks? 
  • When each task is due
  • How your team will know whether or not the action step was successful after the next sprint

In the next sprint retrospective meeting, briefly address the actions taken to resolve past issues. Honestly evaluate whether the issues were resolved or if they need revisiting. 

Here are some tips for planning effective next steps after a sprint retrospective: 

  1. Give team members time to ask questions about the action steps before the meeting ends.
  2. Make sure each action follows the S.M.A.R.T goal format.
  3. Add all related tasks to your project management platform immediately, so nothing gets lost when the next sprint begins.

What are the benefits of sprint retrospective meetings?

There are countless benefits of sprint retrospective meetings, but here are our favorites:

  1. Streamlined team communication and feedback 
  2. Discovery of new opportunities for success during the next phase 
  3. Acknowledgment of wins and boosting team morale 
  4. Gathering all project members together for a regular check-in 
  5. Going back to the big picture objectives and aligning them with the day-to-day 
  6. Learning from past mistakes, transforming them from errors into improvements. 
  7. Making the process more productive for everyone involved
  8. Building better relationships as a team and with stakeholders or clients
  9. Increasing the opportunity for creativity 
  10. Encouraging collaboration between team members who don’t normally interact
The Ultimate Guide to Sprint Retrospectives 2
(Lala Azizli via Unsplash)

How long is a sprint retrospective meeting?

How long a sprint retrospective meeting depends on how long the sprint itself was. But your team size and complexity will factor in too. The typical time box for a sprint retrospective meeting is 45 minutes to two hours. 

Sprint retrospective meetings typically last up to three hours after a month-long sprint. If you’re wondering how long yours should be, the math works out to 45 minutes for every one week in a sprint (based on the example). If your sprint was shorter than seven days, schedule the meeting for at least 45 minutes just in case. 

When should a sprint retrospective meeting be held?

Here’s the order in which all major sprint meetings happen:

  1. Sprint planning (here’s a free template you can use)
  2. Sprint with daily Scrum meetings
  3. Sprint review
  4. Sprint retrospective

The next sprint begins right after, and the cycle repeats itself. 

So as you can see, a sprint retrospective should be held directly after a sprint review or within a day or two of completing all other sprint tasks. Add your sprint retrospective meetings as a task at the end of each sprint within Wrike to keep everyone on the same page. 

Who runs sprint retrospective meetings?

The product owner and Scrum master run sprint retrospective meetings. However, project managers may also want to take the lead since they have a less biased view of the overall process. 

What questions should be asked in a sprint retrospective meeting?

Address all three of these question categories at your next sprint retrospective meeting: 

Process

  • What went well, and why? 
  • How can we replicate that success in the next sprint? 
  • What could have gone better, and why? 
  • Is this issue preventable with a process adjustment? 
  • How can we streamline and simplify our process to make it easier? 
  • Are there task redundancies we need to be aware of? 
  • Does everyone fully understand our process?

Time

  • Were there any task bottlenecks? 
  • Why did bottlenecks occur? 
  • Can we adjust our process to avoid bottlenecks for the next sprint? 
  • Were our original time estimates accurate? 
  • What have we discovered about our timeline now that the plan is in action? 
  • Do we need to make up for the last time in the next sprint? How should we do that? 

Resources

  • Are all of our budgets on track?
  • Was there a noticeable shortage or excess of necessary project materials? 
  • Will we need more or fewer resources for the next sprint? 
  • Is there a way we can decrease key resource usage during the next round? 
  • Will we need to request additional resources for the next sprint? 
  • Was work distributed evenly?

Hint: Use Wrike to review workloads across your entire team when assigning tasks. 

Plan your next sprint retrospective with Wrike

Sprint retrospectives are so much more than just a meeting. They’re a bite-sized productivity powerhouse Scrum teams can use to optimize their projects. Not only are sprint retrospectives great for teams, but they’re also a vital component of the sprint process itself. 

To get the most out of any sprint retrospective, you need project management software. Explore Wrike’s two-week free trial to plan your next successful sprint retrospective.

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