3 tips: How to run a good retrospective!

Retrospectives are one of the most effective methods when it comes to supporting an agile team. But what is a good retrospective often doesn't seem so trivial.
Many Team Leads or Scrum Masters try to bring variation into the retros by changing the retrospective techniques. But there is more to consider in order to hold a successful retro.

Don't worry, in this article I also want to give you first-class retrospective ideas that you certainly haven't seen before, but first I would like to go into some other facts when it comes to running a successful retrospective:

How to run a good retrospective:

What is a good retrospective - Set & Setting

Even if retrospective methods are always sworn by, there are far more important levers than varying the questions. This is where the concept of set & setting comes into play. Even if this concept actually comes from a different context, it is just as applicable to retrospectives.
What lies behind this concept is relatively simple: a good retro can only succeed if the set and setting are well chosen.

  • Set = MindSet (the setting of the people)
  • Setting = circumstances (the preparation and circumstances of the retrospective) 

If a retrospective is well planned and the participants are in a good mood and keen to attend the retro, then a retro can only be a success. The right retro questions are just the crowning glory.

Creating the optimal circumstances (setting)

Creating the perfect setting for a retrospective requires careful preparation.

However, the word "preparation" alone can often dampen my motivation.

The following points were therefore particularly important to me for an ideal planning process:

  • It must be time-efficient – ideally it should only take 1-5 minutes.
  • It should be so uncomplicated that I can manage it effortlessly even on my most difficult days.
  • It must guarantee a consistently high quality of the retrospectives.

In order to meet these essential requirements, we have established a streamlined process:

The team leader or Scrum Master selects the appropriate retrospective template 1-2 days before the retrospective, which contains ready-made icebreakers, questions on team health (health check) and the retrospective itself – all customizable as required.

The preparation can then be distributed to the entire team by e-mail with a simple click.

This means that every member knows the focus of the retrospective in advance and answers to the questions can be submitted in advance without being under pressure during the meeting. This not only promotes the quality of the answers and thus the retrospectives, but also significantly simplifies their planning.

Creating the perfect atmosphere (set)

Once you have made the ideal preparations for the retro, it's time to get down to business. In the retro meeting itself, it is essential that there is a good atmosphere and a high level of commitment in the team.

I suspect that anyone who has taken part in more than ten retrospectives knows the feeling when a retro is sleepy. You get the feeling that it's a struggle to make progress and that time is being wasted rather than used. – This is why the term "zombie scrum" has become established.

Of course, we also want to find a mechanism for the "set" that quickly activates all team members and involves them in the action.

This is exactly why we use a so-called icebreaker. This is a check-in question that is asked at the very beginning of a retro. It can be as simple as: "Which of these pictures best describes your week?".

The purpose of this icebreaker is, as the name suggests, to break the ice of the participants in the retrospective. It is not about the added value of the question in terms of content.

It's more about everyone taking the floor once at the start of the retro and smiling for a moment. Once this has happened, the retro will run much better just because of these few minutes that have been invested.

This is precisely why we have established the icebreaker or check-in question as standard in all our retro templates in Echometer.

Retrospective techniques that have it all

Once the right set and setting have been created, the choice of retrospective techniques and methods is crucial. The selected question templates determine the thematic breadth and depth that can be achieved in a retrospective.

While classic methods such as the good-bad or DAKI retrospective are justified, I often find them too one-dimensional. They focus primarily on evaluating what went well, what could be improved and whether changes are necessary.

Of course, this is an effective approach that covers the basic pillars of team success – so no wonder it is so widespread.
But with regular retrospectives, it's worth taking a look off the beaten track. Otherwise, you risk the routine becoming monotonous and the team losing commitment.

I have noticed this problem particularly in teams with a higher agile maturity level. If you want to find out more about the topic "Agiler maturity level", you can do so here: How to measure agile maturity - incl. Agile Maturity Survey

With this in mind, I have compiled my top 6 list of unconventional retrospective methods. These lesser-known approaches can bring a breath of fresh air into the routine and offer new perspectives on teamwork:

What is a good retrospective?

Technology #1 - Agile Delivery Retrospective

Due to the massive cost savings currently affecting many companies, the topic of "Agile Delivery" is becoming increasingly important. Use this retro to check how your team is positioned in this regard.

If you want to find out more about this trending topic, take a look at this article: Increase your agility in 2024

Health-Check questions:

These questions are answered on a scale (1-5):

We get things done really fast. No waiting, no delays.

We are able to estimate exactly what we can deliver in a given cycle and with the given resources.

Our sprint results do not require any post sprint rework to be delivered.

We limit our 'work in progress' to be focused at all times.

Open feedback questions:

When did your ways of working create a suboptimal flow of work (e.g., policies are unclear, not suitable or not adhered to)?

When has our way of working worked well?

What are recent examples for an increment that wasn't working / shippable at the end of the cycle?

What is a good retrospective?

Technique #2 - Team Commitments Retrospective

The current challenges require exceptional teamwork. Check whether your team is pulling together with this retro:

Health-Check questions:

These questions are answered on a scale (1-5):

As a team, we share a common understanding of what "good work" is.

Open feedback questions:

Handling of contradictory priorities: ‘When I encounter contradictory priorities, I …’

Communication of blockers: ‘When I am stuck on a task, I announce this by …’

Navigation of conflicts: ‘When I notice a conflict start to build up in our team, I …’

working agreement sample template tool

What is a good retrospective?

Technique #3 - Psychological safety Retro

Low-conflict collaboration is crucial, especially in tough times. To achieve this, however, everyone must have the confidence to talk about points of friction before they get out of hand. Having the security of always being able to speak out in a team is also known as "psychological safety". See where you stand on this topic:

Health-Check questions:

These questions are answered on a scale (1-5):

I regularly receive useful feedback on how good my performance is and how I can improve.

If a team member makes a mistake, they are not judged for it.

You're allowed to not know things in our team.

In conflicts, we talk on a factual level, so that no one feels personally attacked or judged.

Open feedback questions:

What else do we want to talk about?

What is a good retrospective?

Technology #4 - Battery Retrospective

Difficult times also put a strain on personal batteries. It is particularly important now to keep an eye on the team's energy levels:

Open feedback questions:

How full is your personal battery as a percentage right now?

What has drained your battery recently?

What has recharged your battery recently?

What would help you to save energy over the next few weeks?

What is a good retrospective?

Technique #5 - Future perspective (Future Retrospective)

In rapidly changing environments, you should not only reflect on what has happened, but also dare to look into the unknown. How do you want to act in the future?

Open feedback questions:

What is the most important milestone you would like to see us achieve as a team in the next week(s)?

Which hurdle should we focus on overcoming in the coming weeks?

What would you be particularly grateful for in the coming week(s)?

What is a good retrospective?

Technique #6 - Bottleneck retrospective

The days of an abundance of money are over. This often results in new bottlenecks to which work must adapt:

Open feedback questions:

Our bottleneck: What is the critical part in our structures and processes that determines how much we can achieve as a team?

What options are there for eliminating this one bottleneck?

Conclusion - How to run a good retrospective!

All in all, it can be said that a good retrospective requires good commitment and proper preparation.
Once you have ensured these two aspects, you can round off the whole thing with the right retrospective technique.

If you would like to try out one of our 50+ retrospective templates, why not try out the "Echometer" tool for free?

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Need a team boost? Do this: The Spotify Health Check Retrospective!

First Health question: "😍 We love going to work, and have great fun working together."

Sounds good? Try our retro tool for free below.

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