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What is a sprint retrospective? A guide for product leaders
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What is a sprint retrospective? A guide for product leaders

Discover what a sprint retrospective is and its many benefits—and how doing it right can improve productivity and morale.

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Imagine an engineering team consistently facing problems with their software releases. What they need is hindsight, or a sprint retrospective, to understand how to solve their issue. For example, they might realize they need to focus on sufficient product testing and improving testing practices—before the team loses their drive.

Agile teams get work done in sprints or short fixed-length periods because they provide a framework for delivering features or products incrementally. However, if you don't take the time to reflect on what's working during your sprints, it can negatively impact productivity and team morale. That's why leaders need to learn the ins and outs of sprint retrospectives, so they can make the best use of everyone's time and build better products. 

In this article, you'll learn what a sprint retrospective is including who should be present and who should run it. You'll also learn the benefits of holding sprint retrospective meetings and get some example questions you can use to dig deeper. We'll also show you how you can use Switchboard to plan and run sprints from the same place. 

Let's dive in. 

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What is a sprint retrospective? 

In Agile methodology, a sprint retrospective is a meeting that happens at the end of each sprint, or the time frame allocated for a team to complete a set amount of work. The aim of the sprint retro is to understand how effective the team was at moving the project forward. This includes delving into the people, relationships, processes, and tools involved, addressing what went well and what didn't go as planned. 

Talking about the strengths and weaknesses of your sprint lets you identify potential solutions or improvements you can implement in the future. For example, a product development team might use sprint retrospectives to evaluate their feature prioritization process. They might realize that some features weren't aligned with customer needs. By adjusting their backlog management, they can focus on high-impact features first—leading to faster delivery of valuable features and increased customer satisfaction. 

Who should attend a sprint retrospective meeting? 

To host impactful retrospective meetings, they should include all members of the Scrum team:

  • Development team members. Everyone who worked on the sprint should attend, including engineers, designers, QA testers, and writers. They provide insights into what happened during the sprint from a technical perspective and contribute to discussions about what went well and what could be improved.
  • Scrum Master. Facilitates the meeting, ensuring that the discussion is productive and that the team focuses on constructive feedback and actionable solutions.
  • Product Owner. While the product owner might not be as deeply involved in the day-to-day details of the sprint as the development team, their perspective is crucial. They can provide insights into how the sprint's outcomes align with the product goals and take any feedback to plan successful sprint planning meetings in the future. 

While the core attendees should be from the Scrum team, it's wise to keep the retrospective internal to the team working on the sprint. In some cases, it might be beneficial to invite stakeholders or business reps if there's a specific issue or feedback loop that requires their input. But this should be the exception rather than the norm to maintain an environment where team members feel safe expressing their concerns and feedback.

Who runs a sprint retrospective? 

The sprint retro is typically run by the Scrum Master, ensuring that the meeting is productive, positive, and focused on actionable outcomes. They help the team reflect on the past sprint, encourage participation, and are responsible for keeping time and following up. 

However, in smaller teams or startups, roles can be more fluid, and you might not have a designated Scrum Master. In this case, you still need a firm understanding of who will be facilitating the meeting, especially since, "product managers don't see themselves as meeting runners," says former product officer, Matthew Goldman, managing member at Totavi. Having a facilitator ensures everyone's on the same page, and roles and responsibilities remain clear.

Pro tip: Run your next sprint retro in Switchboard and keep all the files, tools, and apps you need to cover your bases, including your sprint planning tools. Keep sprint burndown charts, backlog items, your team calendar, and your project management tool in the same room you use to meet—and always plan and work in context.  
Asana project tracker and in-app chat in Switchboard
Switchboard makes planning and hosting sprint retros a breeze with persistent rooms that save all your work and content. 

What are the benefits of hosting sprint retrospectives? 

There are plenty of benefits to hosting sprint retrospectives—for one, they can improve team communication by giving everyone a regular forum for open discussion. This is crucial for getting more done in sprints and keeping projects moving forward, not to mention building team camaraderie. 

Let's take a look at some other benefits below. 

Continuous improvement 

Continuous improvement ensures a team is always evolving, striving for better efficiency and effectiveness in each sprint. Sprint retrospectives offer a structured opportunity to reflect on your team's processes, tools, practices, and outcomes, so you can make crucial adjustments and enhancements over time. 

For instance, a design team might find that their daily standups are too long and aren't making the best use of everyone's time. By recognizing this during a retrospective, they can experiment with providing updates async in a Switchboard room—and avoid unproductive meetings

Problem identification and resolution

Sprint retrospectives are crucial for identifying and resolving problems that the team encountered during the sprint. This focused discussion lets the team dissect issues, understand their root causes, and collaboratively develop solutions.

For example, let's say an engineering team identifies integration testing is a recurring bottleneck during a sprint retro. They can brainstorm and implement strategies to streamline these tests, or distribute the workload more effectively in future sprints. 

Increased project visibility

With dedicated time for teams to review and discuss completed work, ongoing challenges, and future plans, sprint retrospectives can give everyone a clearer understanding of the project's status. This visibility helps you identify any discrepancies between expected and actual progress—letting you make real-time adjustments to the project plan. 

For example, in their latest retro, a product team might realize some team members were unaware of the strategic importance of a particular feature. This insight enables better communication of project goals and priorities in future sprints—and makes sure everyone knows how features align with the product vision. 

Increased project visibility also means keeping the documentation related to your sprint or project in one place. If you're using Switchboard, you can create a dedicated sprint retrospective room and access meeting recordings, memos, and files whenever it suits you. Plus, you never have to worry about requesting access or waiting for the right document version. 

Multiple apps and in-room chat open in a Switchboard room
Use Switchboard to work together side-by-side or access the room at a later time. 

Learning and development

During retrospectives, team members share knowledge, discuss new ideas, and reflect on personal and group learnings from the sprint. This environment supports continuous professional growth and team improvement because you get the opportunity to learn from previous obstacles or mistakes. 

For example, a retrospective could lead to a developer sharing a new debugging technique they found effective. This subsequently benefits the entire team by widening their problem-solving toolkit—and making better use of everyone's time. 

Future risk mitigation

By analyzing what went wrong–or what nearly went wrong–in a sprint, you can identify potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them in future sprints

During a retrospective, an engineering team might discuss several recent sprints where unexpected downtime from a third-party API significantly delayed their progress—causing last-minute scrambles to find workarounds.

Recognizing this pattern, the team could develop a strategy that includes implementing more robust error handling or create a more detailed contingency plan that outlines steps to be taken if the third-party service fails. 

Alignment and focus

By regularly revisiting and potentially recalibrating the team's objectives and plans, retrospectives help keep the team on track and focused on delivering value. For instance, a team might realize that they've been prioritizing tasks poorly, leading to delays in important work. They can use this insight to realign their focus and improve their prioritization process for the next sprint.

Or a product team might realize their work has gradually shifted away from the core user needs identified in their product roadmap. The retrospective offers a chance to realign the team's focus on those needs, ensuring that future sprints contribute more directly to the product's success.

Questions to cover during your next sprint retrospective

Now that we've covered the benefits of sprint retrospectives for your team and product, let's explore some key questions you need to cover during your retros. 

Regardless of your sprint retrospective duration, you can use the questions below to help make your meetings more targeted and productive

What went well during the sprint? 

During sprint retrospectives, discussing what went well focuses on the team's successes and positive outcomes. It's important to recognize and celebrate achievements, no matter how small, to boost morale and encourage good practices

A product team might highlight that their collaboration with the design team was exceptionally smooth, leading to quicker mockup approvals and faster implementation of UI changes. For example, they might note that using a new collaboration tool like Switchboard lets team members offer suggestions and approvals on their own time. As a result, they can get back more time for focus work—and speed up the development cycle. 

Sticky notes and a project proposal in a Switchboard room
Switchboard rooms let your team contribute when it makes the most sense.

What didn't go well in the sprint? 

This discussion involves candidly identifying challenges, obstacles, or failures encountered throughout the sprint. It could be anything from missed deliverables or deadlines, technical difficulties, communication breakdowns, or unmet expectations. The aim is not to assign blame but to understand what went wrong and why. By identifying these areas, the team can work on strategies to overcome similar challenges in future sprints and prevent recurrence of the same issues.

Here, the team could discuss a recent sprint where dependencies on external teams led to delays in feature development. For instance, they might pinpoint that waiting for an API update from a partner team slowed down their progress on a critical feature, causing them to miss their deadline. This highlights the need for better coordination with external teams or more robust contingency planning for dependencies that are out of the team's direct control.

What did we learn? 

This segment of the retrospective focuses on lessons learned from both successes and setbacks during the sprint. It's about converting experiences into actionable knowledge that can guide future actions. This could include technical insights, scrum framework improvements, or interpersonal skills development. 

For example, the learning aspect could focus on a new agile tool the product team tried out, which, while promising, didn't quite fit their workflow as expected. This realization prompts the team to either seek out a better-integrated tool or find workarounds to bridge the gaps.

How do we want the next sprint to go? 

Here, the focus shifts to setting intentions and goals for the upcoming cycle. This is a forward-looking conversation where the team aligns on priorities, improvements, or new strategies to implement. 

After realizing unexpected bugs took up a significant portion of their development time in a previous sprint, a software development team might aim to allocate specific time for unforeseen tasks. By adjusting planning to include buffer periods, they can meet their sprint goals more reliably and reduce any end-of-sprint rush.

Your next sprint retrospective: Move work forward between meetings

Agile retrospectives aren't a band-aid solution for ensuring your upcoming sprints will be productive or successful. 

Working in sprints or short fixed-length periods gives Agile teams a framework for delivering features or products incrementally. But, if you don't take time to consider what's working during your sprints, it can harm productivity and morale. That's why leaders need to learn the ins and outs of sprint retrospectives like their benefits, specific questions you need to ask, and who's in charge of leading them. 

Plus, when you use Switchboard to plan and host sprint retrospectives, you get persistent rooms that save your work so you can do more in and between meetings. This lets you make the best use of everyone's time and build better products. 

Keep everything related to your sprint in one place. 
Switchboard rooms unify all your people, projects, and tools so you can keep projects moving in context.
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about sprint retrospectives

What is a sprint retrospective in scrum? 

A sprint  retrospective in scrum should be a safe space to discuss everything from your previous sprint, kind of like a sprint review meeting. This includes having a facilitator guide your development team through what went well, what didn't work out, and what needs improvement. 

What is a sprint retrospective in Agile? 

A sprint retrospective in Agile means gathering the whole team in a time-boxed meeting to go over strengths, weaknesses, or improvements from your previous sprint. By reviewing your work in regular intervals, it can help improve teamwork and refine processes after every iteration.

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Keep everything related to your sprint in one place.

Switchboard rooms unify all your people, projects, and tools so you can keep projects moving in context.