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20 questions for a more collaborative sprint retrospective

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on Feb 28, 2019 6:00:00 AM
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Last time I was at a tech conference, there was an unofficial contest taking place in the exhibit hall – the battle of the photomosaics. Both Apple and Google were on a mission to recruit people to take selfies for their displays. By the time the show ended, patterns became apparent and the images took shape (Google got there first, but who’s counting).

It made me think that a sprint retrospective is a bit like a photomosaic. As a team member, I have my own little squares – my perspective on what went well and what didn’t. What I would like to change and what I still can’t figure out. And so does everyone else. But it doesn’t mean much until we combine our knowledge and start to see the bigger picture.

Sprint retrospective with remote team member

Four questions plus more

During a retro, the right questions can help move teams from individual perspective to shared knowledge and understanding. After all, everything you need to make your next sprint better is already there – questioning just helps tap that well. But sometimes getting developers to switch from problem solving to reflection can take a little effort, especially when everyone's not in the same room.

If you’re looking for some more sprint retrospective question ideas, here are 20 to try with your team – all variations on the four question retrospective.

What went well (keep doing)

Starting off with some team kudos is important for morale – but it shouldn’t stop there. As Marcus Blankenship points out, there’s a lot to learn by trying to find the root causes of our successes, not just our failures.

To probe your victories, try asking these questions:

  • What went great – but you’re worried we might forget about by next sprint?
  • When exactly did you feel the most satisfaction?
  • Who did you see doing something you think everyone should try?
  • Where specifically do you feel we made the biggest leap ahead?
  • Which tools do you think saved us the most time and effort?

What didn’t go well (stop doing)

Probably the most challenging part of this stage is not giving into temptation to get ahead of ourselves – solving the problem instead of describing the issue. Asking the right questions keeps teams in the data gathering stage and avoids jumping to action items.

To keep teams focused on the facts, here are some things to ask:

  • What went wrong that caught you off guard?
  • When do you think we experienced the biggest challenge?
  • Where did your biggest roadblocks come from?
  • Which problems came up the most often?
  • What were the minor (in theory) issues that tripped you up the most?

What was learned

It can be second nature to point fingers when reflecting on challenges. Keeping the Prime Directive in mind is crucial, especially when scrum teams are relatively new. Focusing on learning opportunities can also shift a team’s perspective.

To avoid the blame game and take learning deeper, these questions can help:

  • What helped you make your best team contribution this sprint?
  • Which struggles did you find the hardest to overcome?
  • When did you feel you were most productive and happy?
  • What one thing would you change for next time?
  • How can we take what we learned and use it for the next sprint?

What’s still a puzzle

Most sprints will end with concerns and queries that don’t fit into a box. These probably won’t turn into action items right away, but carving out the opportunity to pose these questions helps eventually set the stage for bigger improvements.

To encourage team members to voice their nagging questions, try these:

  • What’s your biggest uncertainty about what’s happening outside our team?
  • What did you discover this sprint that you’re still wondering about?
  • Where do we need to dig deeper into our plans or roadmap?
  • What key context are we missing to do our work well?
  • How could our current processes be holding us back from seeing better solutions?

Tips to sidestep groupthink

The first step is asking the right questions. But if you don’t have full group participation then you’ll still be missing key bits of information (think of a photomosaic with blank spaces).

Even in the most collaborative agile teams, louder voices can dominate, with introverts or those new to the team not ready to speak up. Or you can fall prey to groupthink, when early ideas (especially when shared by a senior developer) get doubled down on and progress stalls.

You can solve this by making sure all ideas get equal weight. Sticky notes can be somewhat anonymous, but a digital sticky-note wall tool like Span™ Workspace lets everyone contribute completely anonymously from anywhere in the world – and lets ideas be generated in a personal tray before they’re posted. Plus there’s no need to wait until the official meeting. It’s easy to get team members to add notes to a canvas before a retro begins. Here's how our scrum teams use Span Workspace to make their sprint retros quicker and more collaborative.

What are your favorite questions to ask in a retrospective? Any other tips for questioning? Let us know!


Topics: Agile Retrospectives Scrum