In Scrum, Scrum Events, Scrum Fundamentals

Facilitating Sprint Retrospectives

As a ScrumMaster your team is good, but you believe in them and they can be even better if they choose to be.  Your main job as a ScrumMaster in service of the team is to help them choose experiments in how they work that will help them be the best they can be.  This experimentation never ends as the world around the team will continue to change.  Sprint Retrospectives are your whole team coaching opportunity that happens every Sprint, where you can help them devise that next experiment.

The Retrospective is a chance for the team to look at how they are working.  How they work together, their tools and practices, their interaction with other teams and stakeholders, their challenges, their opportunities, and it should result in actions that will move them forward as a team.

Some retrospectives you will choose to look in the rear view mirror at what happened in the last Sprint. What can we learn from it and what are we going to do differently as a result?  Other times you may choose to look through the front windscreen at where you are going; you know where you would like to be as a team, so what’s the next step to get there? If your team doesn’t know where they are going then you have nothing to coach them towards.  A good session to have with your team is to answer the question, what do we want to be as a team in 6 months time.  Maybe play a game like ‘remember the future’, but about the team, get them to draw it, create a poster about what they would desire as a team.  This allows you to look forward, rather than always focusing on problems.

The key to a great retrospective is having the Development Team and Product Owner own the content while the ScrumMaster owns the process.  So as a ScrumMaster if you find yourself at the front of the room, capturing what the team is saying on sticky notes or a whiteboard, then you are probably getting in the way of the team owning the work.  Give clear instructions for each activity you do, but then get out of the way.  Only touch the pens, sticky notes or keyboard (if distributed) to hand them over to the team.  Now from the back of the room you can observe what is happening and step in with a question when you need to challenge the team or to move them forward.



It is the ScrumMaster who must prepare for a retrospective, the teams preparation is the experiences it has had over the past Sprint.  You are partly prepared as a ScrumMaster by the fact that you have spent time with the team, you have observed what’s happened during the Sprint and how the team has played their game (This is harder if you are a ScrumMaster on multiple teams).  You know what works with your team.  Now you are ready to design a workshop for the Retrospective.  A few tips:

  • Keep it simple to explain, and yet try different games and activities to add variety and explore with the teams context with different frames of reference
  • Do it in different locations, in the summer go outside, go to the park or down your local pub
  • Use activities that engage the whole team, break down into smaller groups to encourage divergent thinking
  • Play with metaphors, which can really help teams think differently about their context, with just that slight abstraction
  • Change the length of time, sometimes you need to go deeper, other times a shorter timebox may suffice
  • Change the facilitator, this allows the ScrumMaster participate and the team experiences something new and the external facilitator (maybe another ScrumMaster) may also pick up something useful.


Different Formats

Usually in a retrospective you do a number of activities to take the team through a journey.  I started with the 5 step process, made famous in the book Agile Retrospectives Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.  This process makes sure you have plenty of divergent thinking before you ultimately decide what to do.

There are lots of different formats, here are a few of my staple ones, for each of the 5 steps:


  • Check-in: Each participant responds to a question that can be answered with a word or short phrase.
  • Working Agreements: Team members generate ideas for effective behaviours at work then choose 5 to 7 to guide team interactions and processes.
  • Personal Story: Give everybody a coin, they take it in turns to tell a personal story based on what was happening for them in the year on the coin.

Gathering Information

  • Metaphor: Metaphors that involve movement/journey (sailboat, racing car, maze) or growth (trees, gardens) can work quite well.  Different parts of the metaphor can represent different questions for the team to brainstorm.
  • Mad, Sad and Glad: Brainstorming significant events that made the team Mad, Sad or Glad. Individually brainstorm for 5 minutes, use different colours or emojis.
  • Triple Nickels: Form small groups 4 or 5, silently brainstorm ideas individually, after 5 minutes pass the paper to the right. That person has 5 minutes to build on what is already written. Continue until the paper returns to the original author. Afterwards discuss what was written.

Generate Insights

  • Five Whys: Team members work in small groups.  They ask why 5 times to go beyond habitual thinking. 1 person makes a statement about an event another person asks why that happened a third person may capture the responses.
  • Force Field Analysis: To examine positive and negative factors of a possible change. Identify positive and negative factors of change. Assess each factor by giving it a relative weighting (planning poker maybe). How can factors be strengthened or weakened.
  • Fishbowl: A subset of the team sit on chairs in a circle, and discuss a problem.  The rest are observers and make notes on flip charts around the room.  There is a spare chair and an observer can join the circle, but somebody else must then leave the circle.
  • Coolwall: Used by teams to rate themselves on principles, practices or processes. Brainstorm items to rate. Team members take turns to rate items as Sub-zero, Cool, UnCool or Seriously Uncool. Individuals can place an item or move one.

Generate Actions

  • Retrospective Planning (1,2,4, All): Work individually to generate as many experiments as possible. Order experiments based on ROI, keep the best 2. Form pairs eliminate duplicates create better ideas Order o ROI and keep the best. Form groups of 4 and keep repeating until all together.
  • Impact/Effort Matrix: Possible actions are mapped on two axis effort to implement and potential impact. Good fun to play this on the floor.
  • Tribes: If there are multiple ideas, then a team member can go and advocate an idea and try and attract tribe members, somebody else may argue for another idea and win followers from other tribes.  Somebody might say if you make this change X I will join your tribe.  Keep going until a tribe has 90% of the team prepared to get behind it.


  • Appreciations: Allow the team to notice and appreciate each other.  Can be verbal or get them to write tweets in appreciation on bits of paper or share with the world on twitter.
  • Helped, Hindered, Hypothesis: Explore what helped and hindered the retrospective. Get ideas (Hypothesis) for future retrospectives.

ROTI: Get team member to vote on ROTI, sale of 0-4. Those that scored high, ask what benefits did you get? Ask those that scored low, what they didn’t get? Ask all what would improve future retrospectives?


If you found this article helpful, you can learn more about the other Scrum Events in our Scrum Fundamentals series.

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