7 Steps Guide to Run an Agile Sprint Retrospective

7 Steps Guide to Run an Agile Sprint Retrospective

An agile sprint retrospective generally has 5 to 7 Steps. You can combine some of them together or drop some depending on the needs of your team. As long as you cover all the aspects of the retrospective it doesn’t matter the number of steps you break it down into. We have broken it down into 7 steps. Let’s look at each of them.

Reiterate the Prime Directive

I have seen a lot of teams conduct retrospectives week after week but somewhere down the line they forget the pre-requisites for having a successful retrospective. It is important to reiterate before you start the retrospective meeting that it’s a safe place where people can voice their opinion without judgment, without repercussions. That  the focus of the meeting is process and not individuals. Hence spelling out the Retrospective Prime directive described by Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review should become part of every agile retrospective your team undertakes. It states

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

This enables everyone to participate freely and help provide a true picture of the real state of things.

Start with an Icebreaker

Everyone is unique. Some people thrive in group settings, others not so much. It is important to keep this in mind. Icebreakers are a great way to get people comfortable, get them talking. It’s the start of the dialog and enables people to get used to talking and listening in a group setting. Icebreaker questions are designed to be fun, get a few laughs and at the same time get the users to tell the group a bit about themselves. By the end of it everyone feels a bit more closer to the group. Some examples of icebreaker questions are:

1.What ice cream flavor sums up your personality today?
2.What current fact about your life would most impress your five-year-old self?
3.If you were setting off to Mars and could take only one luxury item with you, what would it be?
4.What’s a movie you always recommend to people? Why do you love it?

We have compiled a list of over 300 icebreaker questions for you to choose from to kickoff your next retrospective meeting.

Check out the complete list here.

Choose A Format

The goal behind every retrospective format is the same. It’s to find out the state of the last sprint, the state of the people and what to do moving forward. There are a lot of formats you can chose from. You can either stick to one format or keep things interesting by switching things up and try out new formats every now and then. It will depend on your team. Some teams like to try out different things others take comfort in familiarity.

Here is a long list of formats that might help you chose one.

To make the blog easier to follow let’s assume we are using the Start Stop Continue retrospective format for this meeting.


This is the individual part of the exercise. Each member of the team spends a few minutes(10-15 mins) going over each column and filling out their experience. Before you start typing out, step back and take some time to reflect on the sprint. Try and recap the key moments of the sprint and how it impacted you and the final outcome.

There are numerous benefits of this step:

1.Your feedback will not be biased with what others are writing
2.You have the time to think and put your thoughts together in a structured format which makes it easier to follow
3.In case your retrospective follows anonymous feedback you will be able to give honest inhibited feedback devoid of any fear. The jury is still out on this though. Some teams prefer anonymous feedback while others don’t.  It can sometimes be an indicator of a bigger systemic problem if employees need anonymity to share their thoughts.

Now go over each section of the format and jot down your experience in each column:

What would you like the team to start doing?
What should the team stop doing?
What is working and the team should continue doing?

After everyone has completed each section the moderator can move on to the next stage.


At this stage all the collective feedback is looked at by the group together. A lot of people will have something similar to say about the sprint. But at the same time a lot of people will have something completely different which will leave you wondering. That’s the great thing about having an individual as well as a group component for the retrospective meeting. The benefits of the group exercise are:

1.You get a chance to hear different viewpoints in a safe space. What you might see as a good thing someone else might think it is bringing the team down. Yes that can happen! I was once in a retrospective meeting where one person wrote that they liked that there was more communication with the additional meetings in the continue column. Someone else wrote there were too many meetings in the stop column.
2.You will see themes emerge where people are pointing to a larger problem by sharing their experience. For example some people might give different examples that show that a lot of bugs are being found. So the theme could be improving overall code quality.

After you have grouped similar feedback together we move on to the next stage.

Your Vote Counts

Retrospective meetings are democratic. You move forward either through consensus or through voting. Every participant gets a limited number of votes. Everyone votes together. Voting enables the team to set the priority on which items to tackle first. Voting is generally followed by a short discussion to figure out what to do next. This leads us into the next and the last stage of the agile sprint retrospective.

Action Plan

The team now comes up with an action plan to make progress on the issues identified. A good action plan should have the following information:

What needs to be done
How it will be done
Who will do it
When will they do it

This is often the place where most retrospectives fail to serve their purpose. Coming up with a practical action plan to tackle prioritized issues is of paramount importance .

If you come back for your next retrospective and no progress has been made on the last action plan then you have a problem! You need to find out why that is happening. Otherwise the retrospective will lose its purpose and become just another meeting ☹️

You can use best practices listed out on our blog on how to run a successful agile retrospective meeting. 

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