Explanation of retrospective and its purpose in agile projects

According to the Agile Practice Guide, 2017, retrospective is a regularly occurring workshop in which participants explore their work and results in order to improve both process and product.

In simple terms, retrospective is a meeting held at the end of an iteration to capture lessons learned in an adaptive (agile or hybrid) project. It is an opportunity for the team to inspect their processes, tools and relationships, and adapt to become more effective as a team and deliver better results. Retrospectives aim to identify and make small improvements in each iteration.

The main focus of a retrospective is on the process.

Retrospective aligns with one of the 12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Questions to ask in a Retrospective

The following three questions should be asked in a retrospective:

  • What did we do well?
  • What could we do better?
  • What should we do differently next time?

Who should attend Retrospective

Retrospectives are for the project team, including:

  • The project team
  • The project manager (or the agile coach)
  • The product owner (recommended but not mandatory)
  • Other relevant stakeholders may be invited too

An Effective Retrospective

For an effective retrospective, an experienced facilitator should be appointed. It need not be the project manager. Any experienced team member could be appointed as a facilitator. The facilitator should create an environment of trust where each participant feels comfortable to speak up. Hierarchical relationships should also be considered. For example, presence of a team member’s manager may discourage the team member from speaking up about his/her lack of technical expertise to get a job done.

The facilitator leads the team to rank improvement items, and the team chooses the appropriate number of items to work on for the next iteration. Usually one to two improvement items per iteration is good enough. Accordingly, action plans should be developed.

The team members should maintain an open mind and everyone should participate in the discussion.

All the good meeting management techniques should be applied to retrospective meetings as well.

Benefits of Retrospectives

  • Help improve a team’s performance iteratively over the course of the project
  • Since the entire team participates and identifies the improvements, decisions have buy-in of the team members

Signs of a Dysfunctional Restrospective

  • Only few team members participate or dominate the discussion
  • Focusing only on things that went wrong
  • Finger pointing and fixing blame
  • Not identifying any improvement items
  • Identifying too many improvement items
  • Identical issues are identified in each retrospective

PMP Exam Tips

  • Retrospectives can also be used to conduct risk audits.
Last updated: January 09, 2024