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How long should your sprint retrospective meeting last?
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How long should your sprint retrospective meeting last?

Discover the ideal sprint retrospective duration for your team and project—and improve productivity and morale.

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Companies like Apple are renowned for design-first thinking and development—using Agile methodologies to ensure rapid iteration across product sprints. This approach lets them act fast on user and internal feedback to deliver high-quality, user-centric designs. 

Strong scrum teams like the ones at Apple know that sprint retrospectives are crucial for understanding what went well during the sprint. But having too many meetings, or meetings that consistently run over, can limit productivity and lower morale. That's why leaders need to understand the sweet spot for how long a sprint retrospective should be, so they can build and collaborate effectively. 

Discover the factors that influence sprint retrospective duration and how to determine meeting duration based on your team's capacity and working style. You'll also get a sample retrospective template you can use to save time analyzing your previous sprint. 

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7 factors that influence sprint retrospective duration

The length of a sprint retrospective meeting varies depending on the length of the sprint itself and the complexity of the project. The key is to make sure there's enough time to thoroughly discuss what went well, what didn't, and how the team can improve in the next sprint—without making the meeting too long and losing team engagement. 

Let's dive into the factors that can determine the length of your sprint retrospective, so you can use your time more efficiently and hold more impactful retrospective meetings. 

Sprint duration

The length of the sprint itself is a main factor in determining the duration of your retrospective meeting. Typically, the longer the sprint, the longer the sprint review should be to cover all the events, changes, and feedback

For a product or design team, if the sprint was two weeks, a 1.5 hour retrospective gives you ample time to review outcomes, processes, and team dynamics. For example, a design team discussing the effectiveness of new design prototypes tested during the sprint might require a thorough discussion.

Pro tip: Create a dedicated Switchboard room for sprint retrospectives and organize all your files, apps, and tools in one place. Get everyone on the same page during the sprint retro process by bringing agendas, issues, feedback, and tasks into an interactive room.
Google Docs, sticky notes, a PDF, and an open now apps sidebar in Switchboard
Switchboard lets you cancel unproductive meetings by letting you move work forward on your own time.

Project complexity

Complex projects often require more in-depth discussions during retrospectives. In a product development context, if the team is working on a multifaceted product with numerous dependencies, the retrospective might need more time to address them. However, if you're hosting successful sprint planning meetings that accurately account for the resources and tasks needed for your sprint, you can save valuable time by having less to address retroactively. 

For instance, if a design team is working on an integrated platform that involves multiple user interfaces and user experiences, the retrospective would need to dive into these complexities to make sure all aspects are refined for the next sprint. But, if they have a strong sprint planning process, they might be able to limit mistakes or issues from happening, before they happen. 

Number of issues 

The quantity and severity of issues identified during a sprint can also influence the duration of agile retrospectives. A sprint full of challenges might require a longer retrospective to unpack what went wrong and why to ensure continuous improvement. 

For instance, if several key features didn't meet user expectations or technical issues were frequent, the development team would need time to analyze these problems and devise actionable improvements.

That's where skilled Scrum Masters come in: They need to guide the conversation and make sure issues are relevant and aligned with the product vision.

Retrospective format 

The structure and activities planned for a retrospective can affect its length. Interactive and engaging formats might require more time but can be more effective in identifying and addressing team concerns. 

For example, a design team might use the 'Speed Car' format to better understand what accelerates their progress (boosters) and what slows them down or creates obstacles (blockers). This can help them improve things like creativity flows, tool efficiency, collaboration with other departments, client feedback loops, and adherence to design standards.

Remember: The retrospective format you choose should match team needs and the context of the sprint. Here are some retro formats you can use to avoid unproductive meetings

  • What went well, what went bad, action items. Team members address the strengths, weaknesses, and potential next steps from the recent sprint. This format is particularly useful for getting an overview of the team's performance and setting clear objectives to get more done in sprints
  • Start, stop, continue. This is a straightforward format where team members discuss what practices they should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. It's effective for identifying actionable steps for improvement. For example, a team of UX designers might decide to start incorporating user feedback more frequently, stop overloading sprints with too many tasks, and continue their effective daily stand-ups.
  • Mad, sad, glad. This emotional-centric format helps teams express feelings about their work, categorizing reflections into what made them mad, sad, or glad. It's particularly useful for addressing team morale and emotional barriers to productivity. 

Team maturity

Experienced teams with a history of working together can conduct quicker and more focused retrospectives, as they're likely attuned to each other's working styles, workflows, and the sprint's cadence. On the other hand, newer or less mature teams might need longer retrospectives to establish a rhythm and effectively address issues. 

For example, a newly formed product team might spend extra time establishing retrospective norms and ground rules, which could extend the meeting duration.

Facilitation skills

Whether you have a Scrum Master or a designated meeting facilitator, you need someone to take the reins on team alignment and productivity to keep retros short and succinct. Skilled facilitators can keep discussions on track, ensure relevant topics are covered, and prevent the meeting from dragging on. 

Let's say an engineering team just concluded a sprint focused on developing a new document collaboration feature. But throughout the sprint, the team faced several challenges, including delays in integration testing and some miscommunication regarding design specifications. To kick off the sprint retrospective, the facilitator might set a positive and constructive tone, emphasizing the session's goal to learn and improve rather than assign blame. To save time, the facilitator also isn't afraid of stopping conversations that veer off topic and gets right to asking questions, depending on the format they chose. 

According to Goldman, your sprint retrospective duration depends on the facilitator's ability to, "make sure people don't go on long side journeys or tangents, while keeping the meeting moving. This means either resolving things immediately or tabling them for another time."

Team size

Larger teams often require longer retrospectives to give everyone a chance to contribute. More team members mean more perspectives, which is valuable for comprehensive reflection but also time-consuming. 

For a large team working on a complex design project, ensuring you hear and consider each team member's insights could extend the retrospective beyond the typical duration for smaller teams.

Rule of thumb: Sprint retrospective meeting duration

According to the Scrum Alliance, "The general guidance is to allow 45 minutes for each week of sprint length," which looks something like this: 

  • 45 minutes for a one-week sprint
  • 90 minutes for a two-week sprint
  • 135 minutes for a three-week sprint
  • 180 minutes for a four-week sprint

Yet, based on figures from the sprint retrospective tool Reetro, the average duration for a sprint retrospective meeting is 27 minutes, with the shortest coming in at 93 seconds. 

Goldman confirms the importance of this: "You want to try to keep real time meetings within the hour because, "it's harder to pay attention and you'll start losing people." This means you might need to reevaluate how you come together to move projects forward—like doing focus work on your own time.

Pro tip: Use Switchboard as your single source of truth for planning and hosting every meeting needed for your sprint—whether it's as a team or on your own time. Simply add your sprint planning tool, digital whiteboard, project management tool, and whatever else you need to move work forward. This way, you can save time context-switching between tools, apps, and files, and have everything related to the sprint right where you need it. 
Figma, Google Docs, and a virtual whiteboard open in Switchboard
Switchboard lets you plan and host everything related to your sprint, including sprint planning and sprint retrospective meetings.

Sample structure of a 90-minute sprint retrospective

As mentioned, you need a structured way for teams to reflect on their recent work processes, discuss what went well, identify areas for improvement, and plan actions to enhance their next sprint. Not committing to a time frame or timeboxing your meetings and sticking to an agenda can be one of the main reasons why sprints fail

So, here's a detailed breakdown of each step in the sprint retrospective. 

Step 1: Write comments (10 minutes) 

Each team member writes down their observations and feedback about the sprint based on the meeting format. This can include what they felt went well, what didn't, and any suggestions for improvement. These comments are typically written anonymously on sticky notes or a digital equivalent. 

Step 2: Group comments (15 minutes)

Once all comments are collected, the team groups them into related themes. This helps in organizing feedback and identifying common areas that need attention. Team members collaboratively categorize the comments, which can involve moving around physical sticky notes or organizing digital notes into clusters. 

Step 3: Vote (5-10 minutes)

After categorizing the comments, team members vote on the most critical or value-based issues they want to address. Each member typically has a limited number of votes. This process helps the team prioritize which topics they should focus on during the action planning stage.

Pro tip: Switchboard makes it easy to complete steps 1-3 on your own time, so you can shorten your sprint retros and get more done during and between meetings. 
Multiple tools and apps open in Switchboard
Use Switchboard to collect and group comments and vote on them as a team—in real time and on your own time. 

Step 4: Build your action plan  (60 minutes)

The team discusses the top-voted issues in detail and develops a concrete action plan for improvement. This plan should include specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) actions that the team commits to implementing in the next sprint. Make sure to assign owners to each action item and ensure accountability. 

Step 5: Conduct a ROTI survey (5 minutes)

Each team member rates the meeting based on the perceived return on the time invested, often on a scale from 1 to 5. This feedback can be used to improve future retrospectives, making sure they're productive and a good use of everyone's time. 

Sprint retrospective duration: Get more done during and between retros

Agile teams depend on sprint retrospectives to fully dive into their last sprint and understand their scrum process, tools, and potential improvements—including what went well or what didn't go as planned. No wonder the engineers at Apple keep pushing the envelope with creative, design-focused products. 

But having too many meetings, or project retrospectives that consistently run over, can have a negative impact on productivity and team morale. That's why leaders of highly collaborative teams need to understand the sweet spot for their sprint retrospective duration–and the factors that impact it–so they can build and collaborate better. 

Things like project complexity, number of issues, and retrospective format, to name a few, can all influence the retrospective's duration. Plus, when you use Switchboard to plan and host everything related to your sprint, you can save time by moving work forward outside of meetings. This can boost productivity and job satisfaction by giving people more time back for meaningful focus work. 

Keep everything related to your sprint in one place.
Switchboard rooms are your single source of truth for every sprint—organized by team and project.
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Keep everything related to your sprint in one place.

Switchboard rooms are your single source of truth for every sprint—organized by team and project.