Scrum Rules: Your Scrum Master Uses the Retrospective to Help Your Team Improve

August 14, 2020
4 minute read

The Sprint Retrospective is a key meeting where the team discusses how to improve. Like the other meetings in Scrum, the Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring it occurs and that it is well-facilitated.

There are three main purposes of the Sprint Retrospective: honestly review how the last Sprint was conducted in all aspects including skills, relationships, processes, environment, culture and tools; discover the key aspects of the previous Sprint that need to be carried forward or improved; and, plan how the Scrum Team will improve the way it does work. This meeting aids the team in inspecting and adapting the entire use of Scrum and how the team is progressing as a team. The Sprint Retrospective is a check point that helps the team to know its current state, compare to its desired state, identify gaps, and take the needed steps to improve. This meeting is also where the Scrum Master challenges the team to look deeply at itself and its process without fear. When a Scrum Team fails to hold and participate in this essential meeting, the team is likely to become a Scrum Team in name only without the spirit of Scrum – and therefore lose many of the far reaching benefits that many other Scrum Teams have experienced.

There are many retrospective techniques, most of which are fairly simple to use. Two good references are “Agile Retrospectives” by Esther Derby and the Retr-o-Mat (Plans for Retrospectives) website. A Scrum Master should become familiar with these helpful resources.

The basic agenda of a retrospective includes these five stages:

  1. Opening / Set the Stage
  2. Reflection / Gathering Data
  3. Learning / Generate Insights
  4. Planning / Decide What To Do
  5. Close the Retrospective

Ensure that the whole Scrum Team is invited, plan the details of the agenda including if there are crucial topics to discuss, how the agenda will be facilitated, and ensure that team members are prepared. As well, let non-team stakeholders know that the retrospective is private to the team and that they definitely cannot attend, and that the results of the retrospective will only be shared outside the team if there is unanimous consent from the team (this is to ensure safety and confidentiality).

Sometimes a Scrum Master does not facilitate a retrospective, even knowing about its purpose and having techniques easily available. In this case, management needs to support the team by ensuring that the Scrum Master knows his/her duty to hold the meeting, and in the extreme case, by replacing the Scrum Master.

NOTE: the team cannot self-organize to stop doing the retrospective! It is a required part of the Scrum framework and cannot be skipped or discontinued for any reason… unless the team decides to stop using Scrum entirely!

The Scrum Master ensures that the event takes place and that attendants understand its purpose. The Scrum Master teaches all to keep it within the time-box. — The Scrum Guide

The Scrum Master encourages the Scrum Team to improve, within the Scrum process framework, its development process and practices to make it more effective and enjoyable for the next Sprint. — The Scrum Guide

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Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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