How to prepare for a retrospective meeting

A retrospective meeting is an important part of the Agile Software Development. It does not matter whether your team uses Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall etc., or has no formalized management framework at all. It also doesn’t matter whether you have a formalized development sprint or not. What really important is to analyze your team’s progress, successes and mistakes, and then develop the team based on that information. The place and time for that is a retrospective meeting. Let’s find out how to prepare an awesome retrospective meeting.

A retrospective meeting is a meeting, where the team can analyze their work, existing processes and make decisions for further improvements. It does not matter how good your team is – there is always a space to get better.

To make a successful retrospective meeting and not to be distracted in the process, you should always keep in mind the main subjects that you want to include:

  • People. The manpower is the most important asset of any software development company. The efficiency of any team (and the entire company) depends on how motivated, happy and efficient any of your teammates are. A retrospective meeting is a good place to find out whether your team is happy, well motivated, or whether anyone is tired. It is also very important to find out, which competencies should be improved for each of the teammates individually.
  • Relations. Each of the teammates is not isolated – there are always interactions inside the team and outside of it. It is important to make the communication efficient, especially in distributed teams with teammates from different cities and countries. Don’t forget to keep track on the existing relations of the teammates from the emotional perspective – a team may consist not only of friends, but a good rivalry may bring it benefits as well in case it is aimed at professional growth.
  • Tasks that a team was working on between the two consecutive retrospective meetings (sprint, or any other time interval) are both the measure of the team’s efficiency and a source of examples that should be discussed during the retrospective meeting. The word retrospective itself means the way to look back and check what went well, what the mistakes were and what actions to take in future in order to improve.
  • Processes that the team is relying on during their work are also very important. The processes may be created or dictated by the projects and tasks, tools, relations and the people. They may be formalized and be documented, or exist as traditions and even occur spontaneously. A good idea is to review the existing or newly emerged ones in order to improve them or even sometimes remove as obsolete.
  • Tools are presented by both software and hardware. It is important to make sure that each teammate has everything that he needs for efficient work. Even a broken favorite cup may be a distraction ;-).

Knowing these subjects allows us to proceed with specific actions. On each subject you may come up with actions, which are sometimes called goals of the retrospective meeting:

Analyse > Conclude > Improve

We can take a task, a process or even some relationship situation. Analyse what has happened: it is important to involve all the interested team members and observe from the different perspectives. Any analysis should lead to conclusions: “What went wrong?”, “What went right?”, “What are the losses and benefits?”. Finally, it should be turned in some actionable decision: “What can we improve?”, “How do we need to act next time?” etc.

Now you have a clearer direction on what to focus. It is also a good practice to ask your team mates, what they want to discuss during the retrospective meetings. In time, they will take an initiative and will share the topics of discussion during the sprint by adding them to the meeting agenda.

Each chosen retrospective subject may be worked out through one or multiple activities. Each activity may be more or less interactive: from narrative reports about team or company successes, news “from outside” and so on, to the gamification and team building activities. Check-in activities are worth special attention – they allow to tune up the team for further discussion and tune yourself to the team mood, which will allow to modify a retrospective meeting on the fly to better fit the current situation.

Conclusion: retrospectives should be fun as well as useful. They allow the team members to know each other better and strive to a better cooperation as a single development unit. Thanks for reading!