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Module 6: Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Module 6: The Sprint Retrospective Meeting uses ideas from Roger Schwarz, R. Brian Stanfield, Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Steven M. Smith, Norman Kerth, William Ury, Gerald M. Weinberg, Keith Johnstone, Dr. J. Richard Hackman, Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Robert Cialdini, Dr. Keith Sawyer, and Dr. Sam Kaner. That's Jimi Fosdick, CST, on guitar, and -- as always -- Nicole Lewis, CSP, as voice of the Scrum Master.

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Script without illustrations.

Scrum Reference Card Excerpt: The Sprint Retrospective Meeting

Each Sprint ends with a retrospective. At this meeting, the team reflects on its own process. They inspect their behavior and take action to adapt it for future Sprints.

Dedicated Scrum Masters will find alternatives to the stale, fearful meetings everyone has come to expect. An in-depth retrospective requires an environment of psychological safety not found in most organizations. Without safety, the retrospective discussion will either avoid the uncomfortable issues or deteriorate into blaming and hostility.

A common impediment to full transparency on the team is the presence of people who conduct performance appraisals.

Another impediment to an insightful retrospective is the human tendency to jump to conclusions and propose actions too quickly. Agile Retrospectives, the most popular book on this topic, describes a series of steps to slow this process down: Set the stage, gather data, generate insights, decide what to do, close the retrospective.

Another guide recommended for Scrum Masters, The Art of Focused Conversations, breaks the process into similar steps: Objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional (ORID).

A third impediment to psychological safety is geographic distribution. Geographically dispersed teams usually do not collaborate as well as those in team rooms.

Retrospectives often expose organizational impediments. Once a team has resolved the impediments within its immediate influence, the Scrum Master should work to expand that influence, chipping away at the organizational impediments.

Scrum Masters should use a variety of techniques to facilitate retrospectives, including silent writing, timelines, and satisfaction histograms. In all cases, the goals are to gain a common understanding of multiple perspectives and to develop actions that will take the team to the next level.


It is often beneficial to involve the Product Owner in the retrospective, introducing an interesting challenge to pure team self organization since Product Owners are supposed to be powerful people* and nearly all organizations have some form of boss and subordinate designations. The most common and least skillful response to the invisible gun issue is to pretend it's not there just because there are no overt signs of it. More effective responses could include conducting anonymous safety checks, using smaller break out groups, and/or conducting the retrospective in two parts. But if you're taking a Scrum certification test, answer questions as if the Product Owner is "on the team."

* If you don't have the authority to cancel development, you might not be the real Product Owner. According to Kent Beck, the first documented eXtreme Programming (XP) project failed because the goal donor was not the gold owner.