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What Is an Agile Retrospective?

Agile Retrospective is a team meeting that takes place at the end of a sprint or at regular intervals. Inspect your processes and identify room for improvement with an Agile Retrospective.

An Agile Retrospective is a team meeting that aims to inspect in detail your processes, solve existing problems and identify room for improvement. It may take place at the end of a sprint or an iteration if you use Scrum, or at regular intervals if you use Kanban. The purpose of this meeting is to inspect what has gone well, what hasn't gone well, and how to improve the process for the future. 
 
The retrospective is a time for team members to reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and set goals for the next iteration. The meeting should be facilitated by one of the team members who can guide it in a constructive way. 
 
The retrospective allows participants to reflect on what they have completed and identify areas that need improvement. When facilitated in a constructive way, retrospectives are an excellent opportunity for teams to learn from mistakes and improve their processes going forward.

How Do Agile and Retrospectives Relate to Each Other? 

Agile is a set of principles that help teams and organizations manage projects in the most effective and efficient way. Agile teams are self-organizing, cross-functional, and collaborative. Retrospectives are one of the Agile practices that help teams to reflect on their work and learn from it. 

The main goal of retrospectives is to find ways to continuously improve the team’s work process by making it more efficient, productive, and enjoyable. It is a way for team members to assess what they have done well and what they need to improve on.

Why Retrospective Is Important in Agile? 

A retrospective is important in Agile because it helps the team to identify possible problems, improve the quality of work, reduce waste, and increase productivity. 

Who Should Join the Agile Retrospectives? 

The Agile retrospective should be attended by the entire team, including the project manager, the team leader, and the product owner.

Agile Retrospectives and the Kanban Method 

When talking about retrospectives and Agile, most people are quick enough to link them to the Scrum framework. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s important to point out the Kanban perspective on Agile retrospectives. First of all, due to the continuous flow of work in Kanban, retrospectives can be held whenever the team feels a need to (it’s still a good practice to agree on a cadence - biweekly, monthly, etc.).  
 
Furthermore, while the generic idea of a retrospective meeting is to look back at what has happened during a specific time period, the Kanban method goes one step beyond that and emphasizes Flow analysis. Teams gather around their Kanban boards and inspect their entire process/service with the goal of continuously improving it.   
 
While this includes reflecting on how the work has been delivered and what could’ve been done better, it also focuses on: 

  • The structure of the process on the Kanban board (ex. Are there any stages that we need to add due to the evolution of the process or others that we need to exclude because they’re wasteful?) 
  • Work visualization issues (ex. Are there certain types of work items that are not visualized on the Kanban board but still consume the team’s capacity?) 
  • Alleviation of bottlenecks (ex. Are there stages in the process where too much work gets accumulated which causes some team members to be overburdened while others to stay idle for long periods of time?) 
  • Work delivery analysis (ex. Is our average cycle time decreasing or increasing over time and do we meet our target service level expectations?)
  • Including others based on your case.  

After analyzing how current work practices and the process, in general, could be improved, it’s important to prepare an action item list. Then, don’t just forget about it, but make sure you revisit it during the next Team Retrospective meeting to figure out whether your actions have actually brought improvements.

What Are the Benefits of Retrospectives? 

Retrospectives have many benefits: they can help teams become more productive, improve communication, share knowledge, and foster collaboration. This is a list of the benefits of conducting retrospectives. 

  • Retrospective creates an environment for continuous improvement
  • Retrospectives provide a platform to celebrate success and reflect upon failures. 
  • Agile retrospectives make good teams great. 
  • Participation and sharing of interests and views are fostered in retrospectives, which lead to an amicable solution for the team. 
  • The end of a retrospective allows the team to start the next project with a fresh perspective.

How to Run an Agile Retrospective?

An Agile retrospective starts with the facilitator setting up the stage for the meeting by telling everyone why it's important and what they will be talking about. Next, each person should share one thing that went well during the iteration and one thing that didn't go as expected or as planned. After this, there should be a discussion where people can come up with ideas on how to make things better next time around. 
 
In order to run an Agile retrospective, it is a good practice to follow the following five steps. 

1. Set The Stage 

Ideally, the retrospective should take place in a relaxed environment with enough room for everyone to participate. If possible, it should be scheduled outside of normal working hours. The facilitator should create a safe space where anyone can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or criticism. 

2. Gather Data 

The second step of running an agile retrospective is gathering data. The purpose of this step is to ensure everyone agrees on the topics to be discussed in the meeting. The team must come up with a list of the three most important things they want to improve and then take a look at how they are currently doing in those areas with the help of data. 

3. Generate Insights 

Having agreed on the data with the team, the next step is to generate insights. A few simple questions can be asked during this phase, such as what patterns are evident in the data, what was surprising about the data, did you learn anything from the data, was there anything you learned from looking at the data that you were unaware of before? 
Based on these insights, the team should develop a plan to address these issues and create a timeline for implementing their solutions. 

4. Decide 

Decide on the next steps to take in order to improve the process. This could be something as simple as changing a meeting time or as complex as overhauling the process altogether. 

5. Close the Retrospective 

The fifth step of the retrospective is to close it. This includes summarizing the meeting, generating the next steps for improvement, and celebrating what went well.

What Should You Consider while Running an Agile Retrospective? 

The most important thing that you should consider while running an Agile Retrospective is including everyone from all levels of management, as well as the stakeholders. The idea behind this is that everyone has a voice and point of view that can be valuable in making improvements.

How Long should an Agile Retrospective Take? 

The duration of an agile retrospective depends on the length of the iterations in your process. Ideally, it should take no longer than an hour to reflect, group, and discuss the most critical problems. Keep track of time for each phase by setting a timer. The team should know when to move on to other issues by setting clear guidelines. 

What Mindset is Required to Run a Successful Agile Retrospective? 

A successful agile retrospective requires a mindset that is open, honest, and constructive. It also requires people who are willing to learn from their mistakes and be flexible in their approach. This is because retrospectives are not just a team-building exercise but a way to identify and address problems that arise in the team. 

What Is the Wanted Outcome of an Agile Retrospective Meeting? 

The desired outcome of an agile retrospective meeting is to identify what went well, what didn’t go well, and how to improve the process. This meeting should be a time for the team to reflect on their work and identify areas for improvement. This way, the team can learn from their successes as well as their failures. 

How Often Should Agile Retrospectives Be Held? 

The frequency of an Agile retrospective is dependent on the team’s needs as well as the team’s maturity level. The frequency of holding retrospectives depends on the work management method or framework. However, they're usually held bi-weekly or once a month. 

In Summary

In an Agile retrospective, team members examine their processes in detail, solve existing problems, and identify areas for improvement. A good practice for setting up a successful meeting is following the next five steps: 

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather data
  3. Generate insights
  4. Decide
  5. Close the retrospective

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