Can A Team Just Skip a Retrospective?

TL; DR: Skipping Retrospectives?

There are plenty of failure possibilities with Scrum. Given that Scrum is a framework with a reasonable yet short “manual,” this effect should not surprise anyone. One area where Scrum’s nature of being intentionally incomplete causes issues regularly is whether Scrum teams shall stick to the event schedule even if the team’s life is uneventful? For example, is skipping Retrospectives okay?

Join me and delve into the consequences of skipping Retrospectives in less than 90 seconds.

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Scrum Events and Skipping Retrospectives According to the Scrum Guide

There are many references to events in general and Retrospectives in particular in the Scrum Guide 2020:

Page 7: Each event in Scrum is a formal opportunity to inspect and adapt Scrum artifacts.

Page 7: [Scrum] events are specifically designed to enable the transparency required.

Page 7: Failure to operate any events as prescribed results in lost opportunities to inspect and adapt.

Page 7: Events are used in Scrum to create regularity and to minimize the need for meetings not defined in Scrum.

Page 7: Optimally, all events are held at the same time and place to reduce complexity.

Page 10: The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.

Page 10: The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done.

Page 10: [During the Sprint Retrospective,] assumptions that led [inspected elements] astray are identified and their origins explored.

Page 10: The Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved.

Page 10: The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness.

Page 10: The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.

Page 10: The Sprint Retrospective concludes the Sprint.

Page 10: [The Sprint Retrospective] is timeboxed to a maximum of three hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter.

Source: Scrum Guide 2020. (The aggregation is taken from the Scrum Guide 2020 Reordered.)

Every Scrum event is an opportunity for inspection and adaptation, two of the three pillars upon which empiricism rests. Every Scrum event is hence essential, and skipping Retrospectives — or any other event — is, therefore, not an option.

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Why Teams May Consider Not Having Retrospectives

In my experience, Scrum teams consider not having Retrospectives for two reasons:

  1. #NoRetro at all: There is no Retrospective as the Scrum team believes there is nothing to improve. (My two cents: There is no such thing as an agile Nirwana where everything is just perfect. As people say: becoming agile is a journey, not a destination, and there is always something to improve. Probably, your Scrum team is not trying hard enough to identify areas of improvement. Presumably, they have become complacent, shying away from having difficult discussions within the Scrum team and beyond. Remember: Professionals hold each other accountable; skipping Retrospectives won’t get you to that proficiency level.)
  2. Using the Retrospective as a dispensable Sprint buffer: The Scrum team cancels Retrospectives if more time is needed to accomplish the Sprint Goal. (Utilizing the Retrospective as a Sprint emergency reserve is a common sign of cargo cult agile. I believe it is even a worse anti-pattern than not having a Retrospective because there is presumably nothing to improve. However, randomly canceling the Retrospective to meet a possibly unachievable Sprint Goal signifies that the team does not understand basic agile principles, such as continuous improvement. Moreover, an additional 60 minutes are unlikely to move the needle in any meaningful manner. Therefore, if the Scrum team repeatedly does not meet a Sprint Goal, it should inspect what is happening here. Guess which Scrum event is designed for that purpose?)

Skipping Retrospectives — Conclusion

Every Scrum event is an opportunity for inspection and adaptation; next to transparency, the two pillars upon which empiricism rests. Every Scrum event is hence essential, and skipping it is not an option. When everything seems to be perfect, you are not trying hard enough to have difficult conversations. And not investing an hour or so as a team to continuously improve just demonstrates that you are at a very early stage of your journey. Professionals hold each other accountable; you’re an amateur at best in comparison.

Have you met a Scrum team skipping Retrospectives? Please share your learnings with us in the comments.

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Stefan Wolpers

Stefan Wolpers

I have worked for 16-plus years as anScrum Master, Product Owner, and agile coach. Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) with Scrum.org.

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