Reboot Your Scrum Retrospective

For better changes, start with a deep inspection of your existing habits.

Todd Lankford
Jan 15 · 7 min read
Jump into the New Year with Better Changes
Jump into the New Year with Better Changes

Another new year has arrived. Like many of you, I have a renewed interest in improving myself. But this year, I am tired of the same, old change pattern. Losing a few pounds, working out more, and reading more are stale — I’ve seen them before. I’m sure you have, too. This hamster wheel exhausts me. These familiar goals do not inspire me.

So, I need to change it up. Maybe it is the number of this year talking to me: 2020. You know the old saying, “hindsight is 20/20?” Well, if hindsight is 20/20, I need to take a hard look at what habits I want to break and change for the better.

But I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday. Trying to locate some meaningful thing to change eludes me. I don’t want to phone it in like every year. I want to move the needle.

As I ponder this, I also consider the teams I coach towards an Agile mindset. They too run into an improvement rut from time to time.

Take Scrum teams, for instance. Every Sprint, typically two weeks long, Scrum teams stop work to reflect and improve. This is called the Retrospective. When a team is new, these Retrospectives are meaningful. Teams identify good, meaty changes and make improvement happen. As a result, new teams experience meaningful improvement lift in their initial sprints.

Routine sets in as the Sprints go by.

Unfortunately, like me and many of you with your resolutions, routine sets in as the Sprints go by. Meaningful improvements begin to slip under the radar of more mature Scrum teams. In their Retrospectives, teams start to go through the motions. They can’t remember the details of what happened in the Sprint. The Sprint in their rear view mirror blends into all the others.

I ponder my own personal resolution dilemma and that of the teams that I coach. Nothing comes to mind fast, so I go for a run.

I always listen to something on my run. Instead of music, I remembered a book recommendation I heard on a recent podcast. The podcast highlighted a book on habits called Atomic Habits, by James Clear¹. As I start the run, I open Audible and start listening.

Seeing What We Don’t Always Notice Is the First Step

As I enjoy my run, James Clear is telling a story. He describes Japanese train operators using “Pointing and Calling” to improve commuter safety. For instance, when a train is about to depart, a train operator looks down the platform. The operator checks to see if all passengers are clear. Pointing down the track, the operator calls out, “All clear,” if the platform is clear.

We are all prone to going through the motions of our routines and not consciously checking in.

The Japanese train operators do this to avoid falling into routine. A routine could cause them to forget to check on the safety of passengers on the platform. The Railway Technical Research Institute found that this one act reduces their errors by 85% and cuts accidents by 30%².

We are all prone to going through the motions of our routines and not consciously checking in. It is human to follow habits in a non-conscious manner. “Pointing and Calling” brings our habits to a conscious level. This allows us to inspect their effectiveness.

James Clear continues to describe how we can all do our own system of Pointing and Calling. He outlines a simple tool for this called the Habits Scorecard³.

With the Habits Scorecard, you keep a simple log of your habits throughout the day. Beside each habit, you notate a score of positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (=). This score denotes how the habit contributes to achievement of your goals.

At this point, my intrigue peaked. I stopped my run to think about this simple, interesting tool. Could this be the antidote to my situation? How can I use this Habits Scorecard to reboot how I inspect what I need to change? Could my Scrum teams use this to feed the Retrospective with fresh ideas for change? I immediately made a note on my phone to spend some time thinking this through.

Trying Out the Habit Scorecard

After my run, I sat down at my desk and pondered how to use the Habit Scorecard. If I could write down my habits, I could reflect on their contribution to my goals. This would give me a great tool for change. And this would be perfect for Scrum teams as well.

I had to try it. As I sat down to think back over the past year, I realized fast that my memory could not recall enough details. This would be much easier recorded in the moment. My habits were likely well formed and executed without thinking. So they would be consistent. It is okay that I did not log the habits last year. I could start now. So I did.

Over one day, I recorded my habits. I found that I waste too much time reading news. If I could take some of that time and apply it to writing, it would be much better aligned to my goals.

This change is simple but also impactful. It is something I had not considered at the beginning of the year. Plus, it is more meaningful than any habit I would have attempted to form without the Habit Scorecard.

Applying the Habit Scorecard to Scrum

After seeing the usefulness of the Habit Scorecard for me, I considered it for use in Scrum and the teams I coach. I surmise Scrum teams can benefit from it just like I did.

A Habit Scorecard can seed Retrospectives with a rich flow of habits that need to change.

Through the use of this tool, teams can seed their Retrospectives with a rich flow of habits that need to change. It has the potential to reenergize Retrospectives for teams that have run out of fresh ideas. And it can add a fresh approach to teams who find themselves going through the motions.

A Scrum team can use the Habit Scorecard at the team level and at the individual team member level. Here is how this might work.

Tracking a Team-level Habit Scorecard

The team will post a Team-level Habit Scorecard on a big, visible board in the team area. This board will list each day of the Sprint along the bottom. Along the side will be rows for the habit score (+, -, and =).

Daily during the Sprint, the team will post habit observations on the Team-level Habit Scorecard. The team can do this as a team or as individuals. They could even fill it out as part of the Daily Scrum. It is up to the team.

As an example, the team might note a habit of recognizing team members during the Daily Scrum. The team scores this habit as positive as it contributes to higher team happiness.

Tracking Individual Team Member Habit Scorecards

Also, team members have the option of keeping their own Scorecard. On this, each team member could record their own habits daily during the Sprint. This would be in addition to the team habits tracked on the Team-level Habit Scorecard.

Each team member will assign each personal habit a score (+, -, or =). The habit score will reflect how the habit benefits the team purpose or Sprint goal.

For example, a team member might note she has a habit of waiting until the end of the day to fix any defects she finds. She might score this habit negative as it does not support the team’s “Stop the Line” mentality goal.

Using the Scorecard Data to Seed the Retrospective

At the end of the Sprint, the team will bring the Team-level Habit Scorecard to the Retrospective. Each team member may also bring his or her individual Habit Scorecard.

The team can glean themes from the team-level scorecard. Then, they can vote on one or two habits they wish to change next Sprint.

To make it interesting, team members may elect to share how their personal habits contribute to the habits the team selected to change.

From here, the retrospective follows the normal path. The team forms their improvement plan to form a new habit and behavior pattern. Then, the team executes its improvement plan next Sprint.

And That Is How I Plan to Reboot Habit Formation This Year

By logging habits in the moment, I will be able to see better where I need to improve. The habits I uncover to change will be more meaningful than what my memory can produce.

This simple Habits Scorecard tool will add new life to the Scrum Retrospective as well. I plan to introduce it as an option to teams I coach who are struggling to bring fresh ideas to their Retrospectives.

You should give it a try with me. Let’s break free of the same, old change patterns.


  1. Atomic Habits, James Clear, 2018
  2. JR Gestures, Alice Gordenker, Japan Times, 2008
  3. The Habits Scorecard-Use This Simple Exercise to Discover Which Habits You Should Change,, James Clear, 2018

Serious Scrum

Content by and for Scrum Practitioners.

Todd Lankford

Written by

Todd is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with 25 years in consulting. His coaching is focused on making Agile simple again.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for Scrum Practitioners.

Todd Lankford

Written by

Todd is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with 25 years in consulting. His coaching is focused on making Agile simple again.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for Scrum Practitioners.

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