Retrospectives that work

Retrospectives are integral to an agile practice. This is our time of reflection and growth. This is the time when we tell each other what we want to change and why. And we commit to one another one thing, just one thing, that we ourselves will do differently over the coming sprint.


Two of the agile values are enabled with Retrospectives are: valuing “Individuals and interactions,” and valuing “Responding to change.” With a retrospective time, we listen to one another, all voices are heard.

A team retrospective can be short, or it may be long. Some sprints will take more time to process and learn from. Reflection and a decision to practice something is the way that we improve.


With the agile team that I was the scrum coach for last year… we started our retrospectives with a simple and quick style. Sometimes we were complete in 15 minutes, sometimes we went on for 60 minutes. It depended on the team, where we needed dialog and discussion.

A simple and quick way to start a retrospective:

1)      On a flipchart or a whiteboard draw a table with 3 sections. A “happy face” section, a “puzzled face” section, and a “commitments” section.

2)      Give a stickies pad to each team member and ask everyone to write one item per sticky and place onto the board. This usually takes 5 minutes. Though, give it more time if people have more to say.

3)      Stand up around the board and re-group the stickies all at once. Talk about the groupings and the patterns

4)      Give each team member one index card and ask everyone to note one thing that they personally will commit to do differently over the next sprint

5)      Ask each person to read their card to the group and place it onto the board

6)      That’s it!

Works well to post this “retrospective” “board” near your task board. And at the start of the next retrospective, first ask everyone to check in with their commit card.


There are many more ways to hold a retrospective. Many! It’s also a great idea to switch up the questions, the style, facilitation, etc. I highly recommend reading this blog post by Jamie Dinkelacker, a Senior Engineering Manager at Google…


And of course the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen is a goldmine of ideas, too!


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