8 Ways to Run a Successful Sprint Retrospective Meetings

8 Ways to Run a Successful Sprint Retrospective Meetings

Sprint retrospective is an important part of every technology team. It helps teams become better through looking back at what happened. With clear action items the focus is to make incremental improvements that overtime bring in visible change.

This all sounds great in theory 📖 . But like every meeting it can get very challenging very quickly to manage the sprint retrospective meeting. For example:

1.It can become a venting sessions without a meaningful dialogue between the team
2.You can get sidetracked from what’s important and end up wasting time on things that are not important
3.Action items might keep piling up without being completed

So is there anything you can do to keep it from becoming “just another meeting” 🤔 ? We have listed down 8 ways to ensure that your retrospective meeting is a smash hit and does what it is meant to do. Let’s go over them now.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is a list of things you would like to go over in a meeting. Sounds easy enough 😷 ? Not really. A few common mistakes people make with agenda:

“I don’t need an agenda. I’ll do it on the fly”

It’s a common occurrence across companies. Everyone is ready for the meeting and the organizers are fumbling to start the meeting. Because they get confused last minute on what they want to discuss, in which order and for how long. A well thought of agenda can help you avoid such a situation.

Agenda that is too ambitious

I love it when people are ambitious about what they want to do. But when it comes to meetings it can sometimes backfire. A packed agenda that does not allow people to think, contemplate and leaves some room for a few laughs does not work. If everyone in a meeting feels like they are trying to catch a train then it becomes an exercise where you are only checking off boxes. A balanced agenda that keeps the audience, scope of work and amount of time in mind is crucial to run a successful sprint retrospective.

Stale Agenda

This is often the case when overtime the retrospective meeting falls off your priority list. The Agenda attached to the meeting invite might have made sense a couple of months ago. But with each meeting you might discover new things should be added to the agenda. Keep your agenda updated. Remove things that don’t matter anymore.

Attendee List

A sprint standup has a regular set of crew that generally joins the meeting. They are people who are directly involved in the development of the project. The same setting of people meeting each week discussing similar things can lead to tunnel vision or groupthink . This can defeat the purpose of bringing about positive change. Sometimes what you need is to get external folks involved. A guest attendee every few weeks can help provide the team with useful insights and perspective. Some people you can invite.

1.Product Designers: They help you understand the reasoning behind specific design choices. This is great when questions come up on design decisions in the sprint retrospective meeting. They can tell you about the thinking that went into before making the final designs. They can also share other designs that were considered that didn’t make the cut.
2.Data Analytics: They help answer questions on things that are being tracked and why. Depending on how data is tracked in your organization the development team might have to do some work to make sure important things are tracked. Some of these requirements come from the data analytics team. Having representation from the data team in retrospectives helps find better ways for the teams to work together.
3.Executives: Every now and then you should invite someone from the management team to join the sprint retrospective meeting. Especially after big releases which are expected to have a major impact on the core metrics of the company. Without being involved in the day to day management of the product they can provide you with a very different perspective. What you will see is that their answers to sprint retropesective questions will be more strategic than tactical in nature.

Keep Meeting on Track

Meetings have a way of easily going off track pretty quickly. A retrospective meeting often morphs into:

1.A product grooming meeting with the team starting to dive deep into specific features
2.An ideation meeting where we start discussing how the feature could be made better than what it is
3.A finger pointing session after a delayed release 😔 . Trust me that is the worst turn your meeting can take

The organizer can take steps to prevent this from happening. They can reiterate the goal and agenda of the meeting when it starts to go off topic. Sometimes important things might surface that should be discussed. You should acknowledge that and tell the team that it needs to be discussed in the right forum to have any impact. And that the retrospective meeting might not be the right place to do that.

In addition make sure that the meeting:

1.Start and Ends on time.
2.Enough time is set aside to discuss each topic
3.There is enough buffer to accommodate last minutes changes

Start on a light note with a quick ice breaker. This helps people loosen up and talk honestly to the group. Some people might be shy to speak in a group setting. You might need ice breakers to get them comfortable enough to share their views.

Take Notes

Everyone is juggling multiple things at both the office and home. There is always so much going on that it is easy for people to forget things. Different people take away different things from a meeting which can cause confusion. To overcome these issues you need to be thorough with notes. Either the organizer can do it or a rotating volunteer can. At the end of the meeting key takeaways and action items should be agreed upon and made accessible to all the attendees. This might sound bureaucratic and a lot of overhead. But the notes don’t need to be long. They just need to just capture the essence of the meeting in small bullet points.

Be Inclusive

A great sprint retrospective meeting is one where every member of the team is able to make a contribution. Meetings can become overwhelming for people who feel shy to share their perspective in a group setting. You might end up in a situation where the takeaways from the sprint retrospective meeting become skewed because of uneven participation. In such a scenario you need to:

1.Encourage everyone to share equally
2.Identify those who need a bit more support and encouragement to speak and help them
3.Get the loudest voices in the room to bring about excitement and positivity around the exercise
4.Use tools that enable participants to jot down their perspective without any pressure

Action Items

You can have a great, insightful discussion and walk out of the sprint retrospective meeting feeling good. But if you meet again after a few weeks and nothing has changed then that “good” feeling will evaporate quickly. Having a great meeting is not enough. You need to come up with concrete action items with clear responsibilities and due dates. Make sure that each of the action items is discussed before the end of the meeting. If people have issues with what is assigned to them then they need to speak up in the meeting.

If people run into issues when working on the action items after the meeting then they need to seek out help. Who do you go to if you need help completing the action item? You need to have an escalation plan in place. Nobody should wait till the next meeting to say that they couldn’t complete the work assigned to them because they were stuck. Making everyone aware that there is support available goes a long way in making the sprint retrospective more effective.

It’s important to make progress. Action items being completed on time without follow ups is a sign of progress 😄

Build Trust

Trust is the cornerstone of every successful meeting. If there isn’t trust in the meeting room you might as well not have a meeting at all. But how do you build trust? It doesn’t happen in a day. Overtime when you do the following things trust will organically build in the team:

1.Be professional in how the meeting is conducted
2.Focus on the process and not the person
3.Build collective responsibility
4.Provide support to people who have action items assigned to them
5.Lead by consensus
6.Give everyone the opportunity to participate

Take Feedback

For any process to succeed it has to be open to change and evolve. Feedback from the sprint retrospective participants forms the driver for this change. You can get feedback in different ways. It can be formal or informal depending on what works for you and the team. You can keep 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each meeting to discuss if the meeting is fulfilling its objectives. Sounds like a mini retro for the retro..lol 🤣 🤣 🤣 . Or you can send out surveys at regular intervals to gauge the effectiveness of the sprint retrospective and how participants feel about it. In the interest of transparency you should make the feedback collected available to everyone.


All this sounds like a lot of work but it’s not as bad as it looks 😊 . You don’t need to do all these things together. Identify which area where your team needs the most support and focus on it first. If you take on too much you might get overwhelmed. Remember this is probably just one of the tens of meetings that you and the participants attend each week. So don’t make it too intense too fast.

Are you doing something else with your sprint retrospectives that’s making them more effective? Do share it with us 🙏

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