image: © Alan Levine (CC 0 Public Domain)

An agile retrospective is the recurring ritual in which the team reflects on its performance, finds ways to improve their performance and adjusts its behavior accordingly. Having -and naming- this ritual explicitly aids in identifying the importance of the event and its goal, allows people to collectively acknowledge important events (be it with grieve or celebration) and creates focus on what is important.

This is my personal summary of what I took from Day 2 of this program.

Pre-requisites to agile retrospectives

Prime directive:

“Regardless of what we discover, we must understand and truly believe that everyone does the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Gonçalves 2015

  • Create a safe environment
  • Complaints are expressions of thing bothering people, when we formulate complaints as wishes we can create a constructive discussion
  • Have a skilled facilitator

How to create a safe environment

Generally speaking it is advised to only have participating team members in the retrospective. Presence of management often leads to shut-down from team members.

Team members decide what will go public.

“Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”

I don’t know if I fully agree here. But how does the team feel abut this?

Teach team members proper feedback techniques.

Encourage but not force participation.

Location matters. Change location (terrace, bar, … ) can really change the mood of the team.

Further investigation: Design the Team Alliance and Organizational Relationship System Coaching.


  • Create the culture - what culture does your team want to create?
  • Share responsibility - for both outcome and culture.
  • This alliance can be written down in the fom of desires and agreements.
  • Can (should) be updated from time to time.

The Facilitator

The facilitator has several responsibilities:

  • Create environment where everybody is comfortable to speak
  • Encourage everybody to speak
  • Clarify insights - make sure each insight is understood by everybody in the room
  • Challenge insights with questions
  • Make sure there is a positive atmosphere in the room, focusing on constructively improving the future.
  • Choose exercises that fit the situation at hand. There are several resources, including Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives [Gonçalves, Linders] and the Oikosofy Blog
  • Summarize the retrospective

Possible pitfalls

  • Make decisions for the team. Instead, help the team make their own.
  • Take sides in a discussion. Instead help the team members understand each other.

Five stages

These are the well-known retrospective stages that I first learned from “Agile Retrospectives” Derby; Larsen; Schwaber, 2006.

Stage 1: Set the Tone

Create the right atmosphere and declare the focus (validate it with the team).

Stage 2: Gather Data (share context)

Where possible collect data during and before the sprint. Visuals speak louder than words. Visuals can be charts, cards, time-lines etcetera. Don’t forget the F-word - feelings matter too and can be more accurately represented by visuals (smiley-sad faces, emotional seismographs. …) than put in words.

Stage 3: Generate Insights

The raw information can be turned in useful insights after collaborative interpretation and discussion. It is OK to formulate possible solutions at this stage, but we should not stick to a single solution and keep our options open.

Stage 4: Determine Actions

From the actions determine actions and commit to them - both individually and as a team.

Stage 5: Close the Retrospective

Summarize (the retro), visualize (the insights and actions) and energize (the team).

My learning points and questions

Much of the topics covered here were familiar ground, but it is always good to go back to the essentials. What actions did you get out of your last retrospectives?

I know I don’t always succeed in helping the team formulate the things they can start doing tomorrow to address their biggest improvement.

I know I have a tendency to “make my point” instead of helping the team find their own insights.

If it is the first retrospective with the team, it is a good idea to postulate the team values with respect to the retrospective. See for example the prime directive ad the top.

It is important for the facilitator to clarify the insights and challenge them by asking questions. This is what I find the hard part - asking open questions that clarify our insights without making “my point”.

What is our DTA? Is it explicit or mostly implicit?

I should ask the team for improvements of the retrospective more often.


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