Scrum Rules: Sprints Conclude With a Sprint Retrospective

June 5, 2020
5 minute read

The last part of the Sprint is the Sprint Retrospective. This meeting is a private meeting for the members of the Scrum Team (including the Scrum Master and Product Owner). In this meeting, the Team Members discuss how they did their work during the past Sprint and come up with ways to improve their work in the next Sprint. After the Sprint Retrospective, the Sprint is done, and no work of any kind should occur until the start of the next Sprint.

Scrum does not define any particular techniques to use during the Retrospective meeting

The Retrospective is complementary to the Sprint Review. The Review inspects “what” was done and the Retrospective inspects “how” it was done. The Sprint Retrospective is critical for the team to apply the principle of “inspect and adapt” that is core to Scrum. Missing the Sprint Retrospective is a critical failure of the Scrum Master’s job to ensure that the principles of Scrum are being used. If a Retrospective is missed once, what may happen is that some Team Members might feel that missing it was not so bad. There will not likely be any immediate consequences to missing the Retrospective. However, the attitude that the Retrospective is not important will be implanted in the team. This then quickly leads to further compromises and eventually, the continuous improvement parts of Scrum are abandoned and the team focuses purely on the execution parts of Scrum. The team will then fail to become a high-performance team since that high-performance state is predicated on systematic, conscious self-improvement of how the team does its work.

The Scrum Master’s first responsibility to establish the retrospective is to make sure that time for it is blocked off every Sprint as the last activity of the Sprint. This meeting is non-optional for all Team Members and is NOT open to non-members. If there are organizational obstacles to holding the Sprint Retrospective regularly, then the Scrum Master must deal with those obstacles. There are many techniques for holding effective retrospectives and many good resources online and in print for learning these techniques. One technique, however, stands above all of them. This technique is the “Retrospective Prime Directive” which states:

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

This statement is used by the Scrum Master at the beginning of every retrospective to set the stage. It should be read aloud by a Team Member, and then posted on a wall (physically or virtually) where everyone can see it during the course of the retrospective. The first time the Retrospective Prime Directive is used, the team should take a few minutes to discuss what it means. This statement creates a safe environment for people to explore ways to improve without fear of reprisal. Of course, in some teams, this fear of reprisal may linger regardless of the use of the Retrospective Prime Directive.

The outcome of a Sprint Retrospective is a set of clear action items to be completed in the next Sprint. Action items should be specific, should have at least one key Team Member who has volunteered to do the work of each action item, and they should be small enough in effort that they can be accomplished in a single Sprint.

The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint.

The Sprint Retrospective occurs after the Sprint Review and prior to the next Sprint Planning. — The Scrum Guide.

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