What is a retrospective?

In the agile context, a retrospective is an - often regular - team meeting held with the goal of looking back at the most recent collaboration. This is analyzed and measures are derived with the aim of continuously improving the way of working.

More specifically:

The purpose of the retrospective is to plan and discuss ways to increase effectiveness and quality. The team reviews the last few weeks of collaboration in terms of individuals, processes, and tools. The team discusses different topics during a retrospective: what went well?, what problems have we encountered, how did we as a team solve these problems (or what is still missing to a solution)?.

In many agile frameworks, retrospectives have a regular place and are conducted at a regular pace. In Scrum, for example, the retrospective is part of the Scrum events and takes place once per sprint cycle (i.e. at least once a month). With the retrospective view on joint collaboration and the problems that arise, the teams attempt to identify the recognized impediments at an early stage and to address them directly: As opposed to just a single "lessons learned session" after a project is completed.

What are the characteristics of good retrospectives?

The retrospective takes place regularly.

The benefit of this event for a team comes from its regularity and the current reference to the past collaboration. 

Retrospectives have a concrete result.

One of the most common misconceptions about retrospectives is that retrospectives are not a collective round of complaints. They have at least one outcome in the form of a committed improvement proposal or an experiment that is tried out and evaluated by the team.

Retrospectives follow a structure.

In practice, a proven pattern has been established for conducting retrospectives: 1) Set the stage. 2) Collect data: What has gone well or not as expected since the last retrospective? 3) Gain insights: Why are these problems occurring? What were the reasons something went particularly well? 4) Decide on actions: specific suggestions for improvement are formulated and all or a selection are committed to by the team.

Retrospectives are varied.

The points above provide a kind of overarching guideline for the retrospective. At the same time, they provide methodological freedom on how to design this structure. Good suggestions and ideas for the methodical design of retrospectives can be found at: www.retromat.org

Retrospectives have preparation and moderation.

Preparing good and value-added retrospectives takes time. This preparation should be planned for in advance. Moderation within the retrospective helps to stay within the structure and reach a result. At the same time, moderation opens the freedom for participants to focus entirely on the content, so they don´t have to additionally keep focus on a specific time slot.


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