How to Run a Sprint Retrospective the Right Way

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Oct 13, 2021
Updated on
May 23, 2022
Table of Content

Sprint retrospective attendees usually fall into one of two categories: those that see retrospectives as useful tools to drive growth and help review the past iteration, and those that haven’t found the right sprint retrospective format yet. 

By carefully choosing the right retrospective format, practicing effective planning, and being willing to inject a little creativity into your team’s workflow, you can use sprint retrospective meetings to energize your team and improve productivity across the board. Plus, the process is incredibly simple– and the retrospective format is so malleable, it can be tailored to fit the needs of any team. 

This article is going to show you the steps of how to run a retrospective in the most effective way, each and every time. Additionally, we’ll tell you about some of the incredible retrospective tools available– for free– on GoRetro, that will help make your retros even more productive and fun!

How to Run A Sprint Retrospective: Step by Step Guide

Although no two retrospectives are the same (start stop continue template for example is very different from the sailboat retrospective) the steps you must follow in order to keep your retros productive will never change. Here’s the best order your dev team can follow while running a sprint retrospective:

Step 1: Hold a Sprint Review

A sprint review is an important, nuanced, entirely separate meeting from the sprint retrospective. 

The review is there to analyze the team’s actions, while the retro (always held afterwards) is there to analyze how the process took place. 

This is an important difference. Separating team actions from actual processes could help lead your team to incredibly productive breakthroughs. 

Step 2: Break the Ice

After the sprint review, your team will be ready for their sprint retrospective meeting, and what better way to kick things off than some fun, exciting icebreaker games! 

Without a culture of openness, trust, and lack of blame, your sprint is doomed to become an anger-inducing quagmire at worst, and a cesspool of unproductiveness at best. 

To ensure every sprint is as productive, engaging and exciting as possible, a good retro moderator needs to help their teammates settle in and start opening up as quickly as possible. Getting that to happen is hard enough, especially under such strict time constraints– so try a few different approaches until you find one that works! Focus on finding a set of icebreakers that will keep everyone comfortable, will allow your team to get to know each other, and will maximize your team’s time usage during the retro. 

Having trouble coming up with ideas? Check out this list of epic icebreakers that we here at GoRetro put together for this exact reason!

Step 3: Choose your Type of Sprint

This decision will ultimately fall on the team lead’s shoulders, but they should involve their team in the decision making process. Is each sprint going to follow the same structure, keeping things running as quickly and productively as possible, or will the team be exploring different ideas and possibilities with every new sprint period?

Whatever your team decides, make sure to do your groundwork (gather materials, layout templates) and start the sprint promptly. This will allow your team to maximize their time and complete the greatest amount of work during the sprint period. 

Step 4: Know Where You're At 

This is probably where most sprints fall down: they try to cover too much ground in too little time. 

Instead of making this mistake, a good retrospective moderator will drill down into the specifics of each sprint event so that team members can understand the different set of goals, discussions and outcomes you expect from each different event. 

As the retro moderator, this means having a clear idea in your head and a clear explanation for your team members: our sprint retrospective will focus on X, our sprint review will revolve around a discussion of Y, etc… After all, sprint reviews and sprint retrospectives are quite far from being one and the same, and you’re doing your team a disservice by refusing to treat them as such.

Step 5: Discuss… and Watch Out For Blame

During this step, you may feel more like an umpire than a retro moderator. Keeping team members from playing the blame-game after a particularly tough sprint is just that: tough! Be careful of:

  • Team members using too many ‘you’ statements
  • Passive aggressiveness, raised voices, notable animosity in the room.
  • Friction between specific team members

It is your duty as team lead to stop the meeting and refocus your teammates if things start to get out of hand. Everyone must buy in for the retrospective process to work most effectively, and keeping your team members from going after each other is one of the most important things you can do to support that goal. 

Step 6: Define Action Items 

After finishing your team’s discussions about the previous iteration, it’s time to set some action items for the future. Every action item your team discusses should have a name, and an eta. It should also be a SMART goal:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic 
  • Time Relevant

Some Extra Tips on How to Run a Sprint Retrospective 

Timing is Everything

One of the most important aspects of any effectively-run sprint is timing. 

If you run your retrospective too early, the sprint won’t be over and your team will be too inundated with their current work to learn the hard lessons they need. But, if you run your retrospective too long after the sprint ends, your team may have suppressed or forgotten about the important details that need to be discussed. It’s a tight-rope act, and one that any retrospective moderator should have in mind from the early stages of their sprint, all the way through to the very end. 

How Long Should a Sprint Retrospective Take?

A sprint retrospective shouldn’t take more than 3 hours, while the most common duration is 45 minutes per a weekly sprint.
For the most part, a sprint duration of 2 weeks will result in 1.5 hours of sprint retrospective, while a sprint duration of 3 weeks will result in 2.25 hours of retrospective meetings.

Of course the duration of your meetings will be influenced by the number of team members participating in the sprint and retro, how many new members are in the team and so on.

Who Runs Sprint Retrospectives?

Most sprint retrospective meetings include the product owner, the scrum master and the dev team members, yet the scrum master will be the one to facilitate the meeting.

Running Sprint Retrospectives with GoRetro

Your sprint retrospective doesn't have to be so hard to run, with so many moving parts. In fact, you can easily run an effective, quick and fun sprint retro– for free– with GoRetro

GoRetro is fun, forever-free, innovative, and used religiously by the likes of Adobe, Lyft, Netflix and more. 

We provide a professional tool that is designed for your team to enjoy a blameless retrospective and an exciting learning experience that they won't soon forget. Heck, maybe they’ll even start looking forward to the next one! 

Check out GoRetro, and see how your sprints change for the better! 

About the author

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert

Highly experienced in leading multi-organizational teams, groups, in-shore as well as off-shore. The go-to person who is able to simplify the complex. An agile advocate, experienced in all common methodologies. Responsible for the entire software development lifecycle process from development, QA, DevOps, Automation to delivery including overall planning, direction, coordination, execution, implementation, control and completion. Drives execution, and communicates on status, risks, metrics, risk-mitigation and processes across R&D.

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