Blog post

3 ideas to improve your Agile Retrospectives

Published on 20h February 2018 author: Marc Löffler

A lot of people struggle with Agile Retrospectives and some even start to skip them. In this blog post I’d like to give you some ideas on how to improve your Agile Retrospectives. These tips will help you to make your retrospectives awesome again.


1 – Use the enhanced phase model

One of the causes of bad retrospectives is a missing purpose. Any retrospective without a purpose is a complete waste of time (the same applies to any other meeting). It doesn’t make sense to change your retrospectives regularly and introduce new ideas as long as there is no purpose behind. But how can you inject purpose into your retrospectives? The answer is: by using hypotheses. To do so, I adapted the original Agile Retrospective flow by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby the following way: The first step didn’t change.

But, instead of directly generating insight, you check the hypotheses from the last retrospective. This is really powerful, as it offers you the possibility to check if the tasks from your last retrospectives had the effect you expected (your hypothesis). In most cases, you’ll find out that your hypotheses were wrong. Instead of simply checking if you worked on all of the tasks you identified the last time, you additionally check if they were helpful and had a positive effect. If your hypotheses were wrong, this gives you the opportunity to check why they didn’t have the expected outcome. Now, you can start gathering the data and enter the step “Generate Insight” and check what went wrong. This approach helps you to iterate on your tasks until you can fulfil your hypotheses. But, it could also be, that you find out that a hypothesis was complete nonsense. This may happen.

Another change to the standard flow is the adaption of the step “Decide what to do.” You have to add a hypothesis to any task you identify. Otherwise, you won’t be able to check if the task helped. Make sure that your hypothesis is testable as described in the scientific method. If your hypothesis is not testable, it doesn’t make sense. The closing step is the same as in the normal retrospective flow.


2 – Use a goal oriented approach

In the normal case, every Agile Retrospective starts with gathering the data from the last sprint. Often enough it happens, that the team discusses the same topics again and again and it feels like not moving anywhere. But still, we insist on starting every retrospective from scratch. Instead, it could make sense to focus on one and only one topic for a predefined time frame and make this topic the central theme for the upcoming retrospectives. Just imagine, that the team has quality issues with their current product already for quite some time and everything they tried so far, was only a drop in the ocean. Now, the team decides to define the topic of improving the product quality as their main theme for the next three month. This means that every retrospective in the next month will explicitly care for getting rid of these issues.


3 – Focus on ONE thing during the Agile Retrospective

Another mistake that is made quite often is that the team wants to execute more experiments than they are able to. Instead, focus on exactly one experiment. This helps you to ensure, that there is enough capacity to execute the experiment. Nothing is more annoying than a list of experiments that nobody worked on. Pro tip: Don’t throw away your other brilliant experiment ideas, but put them in an experiment backlog. If there is some capacity left, you might start one of these, too. Furthermore, you can shorten your next retrospective by just selecting the next experiment with the highest probability of success from that backlog.


If you want to get more ideas to improve your Agile Retrospectives, join the Agile Month April 2018. Marc is one the Coaches that is going to deliver training Agile Retrospectives Masterclass. Furthermore, he will also perform his speech on the EPIC stage, at the 3rd Agile Serbia Conference. Rethink the usefulness of the Agile Retrospectives, or let this great guy help you understand them deeper.

Marc Löffler

Marc Löffler

Marc Löffler is a renowned speaker, author, and Agile Coach. He is the author of the book “Improving Agile Retrospectives”. He has trained hundreds of people in the last couple of years. He was a speaker at around 50 conferences across Europe.