The ultimate guide to

All you need to know about running fun, engaging retrospectives — supercharge your agile workflow for technology teams.

Photo of a team running a retrospective at startup

It's no secret that methodologies like Agile and Scrum changed the way we run our teams and build technology. No doubt if you work in tech you have found yourself in a retrospective and if you are reading this most likely preparing for one coming up.

Retrospectives or Retros are one of the key elements of a good agile team alongside standups and Kanban boards. So what does a good retro look like?

In this article, we'll outline the basics of running a retro but also so key elements to pay special attention to and soon enough your team will be on the road to success.

There are many types of retros:

  • KALM (Keep, Add, More, Less)
  • Speedboat
  • Speedcar
  • Starfish
  • Stop, Start, Continue
  • Mad, Sad, Glad
  • KALM (Keep, Add, More, Less)

For the sake of this article, we'll be focusing on conducting a traditional retro in an online setting.

Retros should be run once a sprint or every 2 weeks with the primary focus being to improve teamwork and ways of work. It can also be a great space for you as a team lead to understand the pains in your team.

Creating a retro board and inviting your team

There are many tools out there to run a retro, we would recommend ourselves, Candor... naturally, but also for good reason as you'll see later.When you've created a board, you'll see 3 columns "What went well?", "What didn't go well?" and "What can we improve?".

You can now invite your team on the day of the retro and you're set to start.

Filling out the first 2 columns with a timer

Retros are timed events because they can easily drag on really long, so most retro tools will allow you to set a timer.

How long should a timer be?

It's ultimately up to you but for a squad between 3 and 6 members set your timer for 5 minutes, but remember the more people there are the longer it will take to discuss next steps as you'll see later.

Before starting the timer, to make the retro more meaningful, share the following with your team:

  • Remind your team that the "What Went Well" column is there to help us identify the things that we already do well and that we should keep doing
  • Remind your team that they should celebrate success in a retro and not only focus on the negative (include birthdays and kudos)
  • Remind your team that its okay to add personal feelings and blow off a little steam but ultimately the goal is identifying problems in ways of work and things that make them unproductive rather than only personal
  • If you are using Candor you can ask your team to celebrate or angry react to other tickets while they are creating their own to show support. Try it!

Grouping the first 2 columns

Once your team is done its time to group feedback together.

We do this because it helps identify key themes of the retro and prepare the board for voting.

On Candor you can drag and drop pulses on top of each other to create a group..

It can get a little awkward grouping things while everyone watches so enlist the help of a team member to help with grouping, it's weird otherwise, trust us.

Discussion and Voting

Before voting on the groups and themes first ask your team to discuss any feedback that might be ambiguous or lone feedback that doesn't belong to a group. Sometimes cross-functional teams don't have the same issues but it's worth sharing and listening to.

For small teams up to 5, have each member talk through the tickets they made. There's enough time and it's nice to share.

Once you've had time to celebrate, vent and laugh it's time to vote on items that the team feels need to be actioned. Each member has 3 votes. Take another 3 minutes to do this.

Note that some tools allow you to vote multiple times on the same feedback, at Candor we only allow once, to keep it interesting.

Creating Next Steps and Actions

Now we get to perhaps the most important part of the retro, the doing part.The biggest advice we can give you to have more meaningful retros is to meticulously keep track of every task that comes out of a retro and before creating any more tasks... read the previous retros tasks back to the team and tick off which ones have been done.

This acknowledgement of the progress the team is making is key to retros making a difference. Accountability to each other to do the things we said we would do last time.

Once you've done that, go through the upvoted groups from most upvoted to least upvoted and open the room for discussion on what the team can do to change or improve the item.

As you agree on next steps, create actions in the last column "What can we improve", and remember to go out and do those things, until the next time.

Wrapping up

At Retrocat, we love retros... so much that we made this app.Retros can be fun and enjoyable and help your team bond over shared hardships and successes. It's a great method for your team to keep each other accountable and improve camaraderie.

We hope this article has helped you prepare for your first retro or perhaps reignited your passion to add it to your sprint.

Candor is a free simple real-time retrospective tool to help your team conduct retros, you can check out our example board here or sign up.