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What is the Most Important SCRUM Ceremony? The Retro!

Image from Matt Nedrich at Atomic Object

We often tend to think that the retrospective is an optional meeting and given the chance, team members would rather skip it in order to focus on the sprint goal and its respective deliverables. Well, that’s a mistake.

The retro is the most important scrum investment

Sure you might think that without the daily scrum you cannot align on what each team member will work on or mention the blockers currently slowing you down and without the sprint planning it is impossible to have a smooth 2 week cycle, plan and commit to what you will deliver. However, think of the scenario where you just failed to deliver your sprint goal or half of the items in your sprint were not completed and you have to drag them along for another 2 weeks. Ouch! This is messing up your plan a bit right? What went wrong there?

Reflect

Photo by Frans Van Heerden @pexels

So now is the time to sit together with your team and reflect on those 2 weeks. Everyone gets a couple of post its to write their thoughts down. What should definitely be covered are the following:

  • What went well in the sprint
  • What could be improved (no sugarcoating)
  • What will we commit to improve in the upcoming sprint (mean it!)

Be honest as that’s the only way you can make a change and improve

When time’s up, each team member stands up, briefly explain their post its and sticks them on the window/wall. The next ones can do the clustering accordingly in case something is repetitive.

Bonus

Besides the typical topics to be covered, one practice I found really motivational when working with development teams was introducing an additional section that gives special kudos to one team member for something extraordinary they did. This can be both related to the sprint itself like helping you solving an urgent bug or something that brightened up your day like organising a team breakfast. Try it and see how the relationships are also starting to work better :)

Nice, so are we done now? NO!

Improve and drive change

Photo from theformfitness @pexels

The only way you can actually improve as a team is by treating what you wrote down as real action points. Otherwise, congrats, you just wasted your time.

So focus on writing down and taking with you things a) you can indeed influence fast and b) that are the most critical and when successfully implemented, a notable difference in your team performance will be observed regardless on whether that is concrete deliverables, happiness, learnings or team work and better communication.

When you walk out of that room, for the next 2 weeks you are responsible for working on those improvement points. Try to bring them up during the daily, see how you are progressing and call out on your team members when they forget what you committed to. If you see it is not working, be agile about it and adapt on the spot instead of waiting till the next retrospective slot.

Build trust

Photo by Yuri Catalano @pexels

In every successful team, strong bonds of trust are bringing those people together. This does not happen over night and certainly it is harder when a new developer just joined the team or even a new PO was “assigned” to a previously existing team that already has their working rhythm. The only way to attack this is by gradually working on the relationships and team dynamics. Being open about what is working and what can be improved and work it out as a team.

The retro is the time where you can let it all out and no one should take it personally

This can be very tough in the beginning so give it time. Every individual is different and they have different “buttons” that you can hit unintentionally. Don’t take it personally if someone starts crying all of a sudden as people are not used to having someone telling them what they do wrong. Make sure you always keep it professional and when you come closer as a team you can of course say “you left us hanging and you know it”.

This is why, even though the PO is optional in this meeting, in my opinion they should be there. If the development team does not want the PO there, this already indicates that something is wrong when it comes to trust so you have some work to do!

The development team is not on opposite sides from the PO. They are all on the same boat and if you cannot be honest with each other, you are all sinking together

Conclusion

So in case you are still wondering why the retrospective is the most crucial ceremony, having an agile mindset means you are all about trying out, failing, learning, keeping what works, adapting. So if you do not reflect on what you are doing and how you can improve it further, you are just eating the exact same dish every 2 weeks even though you hated it the first time you tried it. So instead of wondering every time why you are not enjoying it, add a pinch of salt and maybe another interesting ingredient and see what happens!

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