How to run an effective sprint retrospective
July 11, 2023

Steve Raynes

Within the Asia Pacific region, PSC has a proven reputation for helping our clients develop and support various energy market systems and schemes, including providing key energy software application capabilities leveraging our energy sector experience to develop fit-for-purpose digital solutions. This ensures our clients are receiving energy application services that are specifically tailored to their system needs and the specialized requirements of the regulated energy industry.

This article focuses on providing effective sprint retrospectives which offer our teams time to reflect on the past with the aim of improving future processes, as we provide bespoke software development, testing and system integration services to our APAC clients.

The real power of this approach is that it provides immediate gains in efficiency and productivity, allowing the team to refine their ways of working and also improving the team’s morale as they work together and see the improvements. On the projects I have worked on, regular well-run retrospectives provided real benefits for our clients through gained efficiencies and a better final product.

What is a Retrospective?

For those familiar with the Agile Development cycle, you’ll know that a Retrospective is (usually) a fortnightly meeting that allows the team to talk about Process Improvements.

Traditionally, this would be known as a ’Lessons Learnt‘ meeting and would happen once only, at the end of the project, and the Project Management Office (PMO) would collect the results to share with future projects.

The problem is that this approach doesn’t allow for improving outcomes of the current project.

The ideal Retrospective is:

  • quick and regular
  • a forum for people to share ideas
  • resulting in a short Action List, and
  • giving ownership to the team for the Action List, usually through voting.

Why have Retrospectives?

The aim of the Retrospective is to improve how things are done, i.e., the process. Basically, we want to stop doing bad things, keep doing good things and introduce things that might help the team.

Our teams often have all the best ideas and holding proper retrospectives gives them the opportunity to share those ideas and hopefully implement them. I have seen process improvements suggested and implemented after the first Sprint (in week 3), benefitting the whole project going forward, and I’ve also seen great suggestions being implemented towards the end of the project. It’s better to continue Retrospectives all the way through to the end of the project as new issues/problems to be addressed can arise at any time.

If you oversee a project or have the chance to influence how a project is run, be an advocate for the Retrospective. It could be the single biggest contributor to getting the most for your client in the given timeframe, removing any time-wasting activity, adding process when it improves quality, and instilling a feeling of ownership within the team.

What makes for a good Retrospective?

To run a valuable Retrospective, one should focus on these:

  1. The meeting is short – no more than 30 minutes. Every meeting comes at a cost, meaning the work that could have been done if the meeting had never happened. The shorter the meeting, the lower the cost. It’s also easier to concentrate when the meeting is short and easier to park current work while giving everyone your full attention.
  2. Everyone is encouraged to put forward their ideas, sharing what they think worked well, what they would like to stop doing, and any new ideas they have. This is the central purpose of the Retrospective, so it’s key not to lose this step. If team members see that their ideas are being considered, they will likely start to think differently. You could think of this as the ‘Source of Innovation’, where ideas are picked up and given a go.
  3. Group similar ideas together and get the team to vote on all the ideas.
  4. Implement the top 3-4 ideas. The voting process should give everyone on the team a feeling of ownership, even if their ideas didn’t get the vote this time. With these new changes, the next sprint should have a better outcome, and in 2 weeks, the team will have the opportunity for another Retrospective.

How to make a good Retrospective great?

At the start of the project, you might have an established WoW (Way-of-Working) focused on team collaboration and success. If not, this process will give you one. It’s a list that describes how the team wants to work and will evolve as the project proceeds.

Firstly, everyone really needs to be on the same page with a shared understanding that the retrospective is worthwhile delivering on their good ideas. So, if you have the chance, try to address any concerns (but don’t do that in the Retrospective as we want to keep Retrospectives lean, to keep them quick).

In the past, Retrospectives might have been conducted in a room with a whiteboard, with everyone holding post-it notes and a pen. Team members would be standing and writing ideas simultaneously and “throwing” them up on the board.

Nowadays, the process is often replicated using an app. Many online tools can be used to conduct the meeting remotely, and these tools are essential if you can’t be in a room together. I have used Reetro and it does the job, but there are many products out there. Simply, it should allow for:

  • the collection of comments under certain categories,
  • moving comments around so similar ones are together, and
  • prioritizing/voting on the comments.

Common categories are:

  • What went well: What we should keep doing,
  • What didn’t go well: Things we should stop doing, or at least change how we do them, and
  • Ideas for improvement: How we can make the project processes better.

Your team might think different categories would serve you better, so let the team decide what headers work best for them.

Timebox the data entry

Give everyone two minutes to put their ideas into column 1, then move straight onto column 2, so after you finished column 3, six minutes have passed. Two minutes is a suggestion, but it helps stay within your optimal meeting duration. It’s even better if team members record some ideas before the meeting starts so they are prepared.

Everyone enters their ideas at the same time.

Grouping of topics

Now spend about 2-3 minutes grouping the ideas together. This is done by one person with the input of the whole team.

  • Is there a common theme in any of the comments? Can they be grouped together?
  • Do we need to clarify any comments? Ask questions as required.


Voting is essential. Everyone has had their chance to put forward their ideas, and now they choose their top three ideas and vote for them. The votes are collated and the top three ideas with the most votes will get implemented.

For the individual, if their idea didn’t get traction, if it’s still important to them at the next Retrospective, they can propose it again. But for now, the team has spoken via its 3 top ideas.

The implementation of the vote is done by the manager/lead and “socialized” with the team, all hopefully in less than 30 minutes.

Post-meeting duties

The Retrospective results are then collected and the top 3 comments as voted for by the team are added to the team’s WoW. This can appear on a wall, be on a project webpage, or exist in another form – whatever is the agreed way the team works together. When the team sees the WoW, they should have a feeling of ownership and familiarity for each item on that list.

In summary

I believe Retrospectives are the best tool we have to innovate our WoW in a project to get benefits as early as possible and reduce inefficiencies, delivering faster and to a higher quality for our clients. This is done by focusing on reducing the impact on the project’s actual work through short Retrospectives, collecting ideas and sorting them quickly, and getting everyone to vote on their favorites.

This also allows for ideas to be tried, and if they didn’t work, they might be voted out during the subsequent Retrospective under the “What didn’t go well” category.

Ultimately, we are always striving for the best outcome for our clients. One way of doing this is keeping projects running as smoothly as possible by listening to the team’s ideas to reduce inefficiencies, keeping what is going well, and innovating with new ideas.

Lean more about what PSC’s Energy Applications team has to offer and contact us to talk more!