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Why we run retrospectives and our need for tools to support them

Why we run retrospectives and our need for tools to support them

Why we run retrospectives and our need for tools to support them

The last of Scrum’s five events, the Sprint Retrospective, is held at the end of each Sprint and is dedicated to the regular inspection of the team’s processes. The team reviews their ways of working over the past Sprint and considers how well their processes have served them, exploring and discussing new ways of improving how they work together.

The goal of the Sprint Retrospective is to seek out small improvement actions that can be trialled as experiments in upcoming sprints with the goal of improving the team’s processes and efficiency. Small improvements made regularly compound into significant change and improved performance over time.

For a two-week sprint, Scrum recommends investing 90 minutes for the Retrospective. For longer or shorter sprints this time box should be adjusted by allocating ~ 45 minutes per week of Sprint length.

The Sprint Retrospective differs from the Sprint Review in that it is focussed on the team’s processes, rather than the product increment, which is the focus of the Sprint Review. It should also only be attended by the team and conducted in a psychologically safe space where frank conversations can happen as are often needed.

Retrospectives are therefore an important team event and are a chance for the team to pause and momentarily separate itself from the product they’ve been developing and focus on the team health and its processes. It’s a neat bookend to conclude the last Sprint which often helps with improved morale and team dynamics and helps to prepare the team for a positive upcoming Sprint.

One well established approach to retrospectives is to follow the five-stage process proposed by Esther Derby and Diane Larson in their excellent book „Agile Retrospectives“:

  • Set the Stage
  • Gather Data
  • Generate Insights
  • Decide what to do
  • Close the Retrospective

They recommend these areas are each covered off in order to have a full discussion of the issues, based on facts and data, and by considering the perspectives of all team members. It’s up to the Scrum Master using an appropriate retrospective pattern to facilitate a good discussion that guides the team through the discussion topics before jumping to solution mode.

An often-forgotten part of the retrospective process is the review of the improvement actions, and whether there they have made a positive difference as hoped. In addition to the process suggested above, each retrospective should also begin with a review of the improvement actions from the last sprint for the team to make an assessment as to whether they have positively impacted the teams processes, and whether they should be continue in future sprints or whether something else should be explored.

Retrospectives should be fun, dynamic and optimistic events. It’s a time for celebrating successes, making processes better and more effective, and for proposing and trying new things. Too often, however, Sprint Retrospectives tend to reduce to the following three questions:

  • What’s going well?
  • What’s not going so well?
  • What can we do to improve?


While in essence that’s what we are trying to achieve with a Retrospective – and that indeed describes what the Scrum Guide defines should be discussed – it’s important that we add some variety to this retrospective activity to achieve those goals. Too many teams are following this standard three-question format every sprint, which unfortunately makes retrospectives feel rather robotic, and become dull and uninspiring. There are countless activities that can be used to keep the retrospective process more interesting, more energetic and fun, with remote/online tools that can support quality retrospective experiences.

The use of online tools to support collaborative activities has become increasingly important and necessary over the last two years as more and more employees have had to work from home. Having adopted and proved this technology, teams and organizations are now becoming ‚virtual first‘, and teams which were once all collocated are now comprised of team members spread across broad geographic locations and time zones.

Our heavy dependence on video and messaging tools such as MS Teams, Zoom, Slack etc also needs supplementing with collaboration tools for brainstorming, as well as tools that support retrospective activities by replicating commonly used offline Agile facilitation techniques in new digital ways.

This very common approach to the retrospective (regardless of the specific activity/template chosen) is to follow a process that is like the popular Lean Coffee facilitation technique. That technique’s process tends to go like this:


  1. Have a time-boxed period of silent writing/brainstorming where individual team members silently capture ideas for potential discussion
  2. Have those ideas revealed and presented back to the group so they are well understood
  3. Have the team members democratically vote on their preferred discussion topics using dot voting or similar
  4. Have the team talk through each of the ranked topics by having a time-boxed discussion on each
  5. Deciding on some actions to take and ensuring the actions have owners



While out of the scope of this article, Lean Coffee is especially helpful for agenda-less meetings and is a handy technique to have available when needed.

Important features of any online retrospective tool are the abilities to use a variety of different retrospective patterns (and add your own patterns in the form of templates), to gather ideas easily, present the ideas, set time-boxes and have the team vote on topics they’d like to discuss.

The Agile Manifesto leads with the following as the very first of its Values:

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

A great retrospective tool allows the Scrum Master and the team to focus on the conversation and not get bogged down in the mechanics of how the tools works. Such tools should be simple, intuitive and fun to use enabling quality interactions between individuals and ‚get out of the way‘.

Our structured online retrospective tool at Trune aims to do just that.


– [Lean Coffee | Start one in your city!](
– Agile Retrospectives (Book) : [Agile Retrospectives : Pragmatic Programmers: Making Good Teams Great : Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Ken Schwaber: Books](
– [Manifesto for Agile Software Development (](
– [Scrum Guide | Scrum Guides](

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