Sunday, November 2, 2014

Promoting constructive discussions in Retrospectives

When transitioning to agile from a strong command and control environment, many team members say as little as possible in Retrospectives. They are used to being told what to do, and do not want to seem like the ‘trouble maker’ by pointing obvious issues. Over time they will realise that it is a good (and safe) thing to point out issues so that the team can work on solving them. 

The scope of what they could change in the past was very limited, which compounds their reluctance to speak up. Usually it takes a while for them to realise that the scope of what they can now change is vast. The task board is quiet often seen as something the team owns and due to its highly visible nature is one of the first areas that teams start to make changes. After the team has implemented their first couple of changes, the Scrum Master should explain to the team just how big their scope for change through Retrospectives really is. 

To aid the explanation of scope and to help bring out information from quiet team members the following list of questions is often useful. For the Scrum Master it will be worth reading these questions prior to each Retrospective and working out which questions could be used to prompt discussion.

Delivery / Completion

  • Why did the extra tasks appear in the sprint? 
  • Why were User Stories/Tasks not completed?
  • Why were some User Stories/Tasks, only partially completed?
  • Did the team over commit? 
  • Was the team reliant on one person/skill set to complete a task? 
  • Were any milestones missed?
  • Were last Sprint Retrospective actions items completed?
  • Where our estimates accurate? Both Story Points and hours?


  • What was the quality of work produced like?
  • Was the test coverage (both automated and manual) sufficient for our needs?
  • Did our documentation provide the information that we required to complete our jobs?
  • Did rework hold us back this sprint?
  • Did the Review/Demo make you proud to be a member of this team?
  • What was the cause of the bugs/tickets that we worked on this sprint?

Scrum / Continuous Improvement

  • What did everyone work on immediately after the Planning meeting? Why did people work on items other then high priority User Stories?
  • Was the Product Backlog ready for use at the planning session? Prioritised, estimated, enough detail?
  • Did the Burndown Chart realistically represent the progress of the team?
  • Did everyone view the Burndown chart as useful?
  • Were last Sprint Retrospective actions items beneficial?
  • How did everyone contribute to User Story value?
  • Is everyone happy with how the Stand ups are working? Can they be improved?
  • Is everyone happy with how the Reviews are working? Can they be improved?
  • Is everyone happy with how the Retrospectives are working? Can they be improved?
  • It has now been X sprints that we have been using Scrum, do we think our situation is better or worse since starting? What is better? What is worse?
  • Why were low priority tasks being worked on, while high priority user stories were on hold?

Communication and Team work

  • Was everyone clear on the team goals?
  • Was everyone clear on their personal priorities?
  • Did internal knowledge transfer occur in a timely and effective manner?
  • How was the team internal communication? Was it clear, concise and timely?
  • How was the intra-team communication? Were expectations and dependencies clear?
  • Did anyone have difficulties obtaining timely information/assistance from people outside of the team? I.e. Product Owner, external Technical Expert.
  • Did anyone have difficulties obtaining timely information/assistance from people in the team? I.e. Architect, Test Specialist, Documentation Specialist, Scrum Master, etc.

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