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As a project manager with 8 years of experience at work and 26 (removing one as I needed some time to adjust :)) in my private life, I wanted to share with you 7 hints that I consider the most important while making retrospectives.

I’ve been through retros with my scrum teams of up to 30 people (joined teams working on the same project). I participated in retro in a project that seemed to be a total failure, and the business was not happy, to put it mildly 😉

I’ve had retros which were absolute fun and the ones where 90% of the time was complete silence. But despite that consider what you read below as my personal notes, subjective view and never an axiom of how it has to be done.

So, let’s start with the list of the most useful elements for me 😊

Make it!

Well, there are different companies and different approaches, especially to initiatives that don’t bring immediate profit or project improvements. Right. It’s not 2 h of coding or bug fixing and it’s not a consultancy that you can charge your client for. But retro is my favourite scrum ceremony that I try to introduce in all of my projects even those which aren’t led in a scrum. The more you do it – the better. The more mistakes and awkward moments you go through – the faster you’ll understand which way is best for you and get to a great retrospective 🙂 

Always prepare an icebreaker

We all are people but sometimes in the chaos of working duties simply forget about this fact. We forget that person on the other side of the screen is also a human being: she/he might be tired, frustrated, overwhelmed with work or exhausted because her kid cried the whole night. They might’ve had a fight with their partners, or maybe they are simply new, shy or feel insecure.

We all behave slightly differently at work and with all this time management stuff tend to use shortcuts that are interpreted in so many different ways. This is why it’s super important in order to get honest and sincere feedback (which is your goal!) to show these people that we all are a bit more human than it may look 🙂

Ask them questions, make them laugh, and remind them of a funny story that would make them feel safe and understood. Examples: Tell me your favourite forbidden/junk food. What do you usually do at weekends? If you could choose a rock concert or reggaeton festival – what would you choose?

Keep a nice atmosphere!

Retrospective should be “a safe place” to meet your team. Otherwise, forget about reliable results. Facilitate the meeting: make sure there’s no finger-pointing and issues are precise enough to understand them and prepare a solution BUT don’t get personal. It’s not about showing who’s wrong it’s about showing what can be improved. Keep transparency on a good level but make sure it doesn’t make some people offended or closed up.

Find a cozy location

We all know why we get uniform in most schools; we all know how different it feels to lead a day in a business suit vs pyjamas 🙂 Same with location – it helps to create a different atmosphere. If you’re lucky enough to have your team in one location – use it!! Take them to a loose room where they can sit on comfortable chairs, carpet, and pillows, get coffee or tea, and have snacks. Make the room help you to get people as comfortable as they can be. Believe me – it will help you to get them talking – and this is your purpose!

Change the angle!

Change your retrospective format from time to time, and ask questions from different angles. It will not only give you an opportunity to get to know more (some issues may not fit the standard “what didn’t go well” template) but will also make your team think more broadly, become more creative and get out of the box of regular issues and vocabulary. It will also make the meetings more creative and thus interest in them will grow as well.

Action points!

Every person gets emotional (whether we see it or not) and every company has some problems. Take it as an axiom and norm. It’s important to have time to share it and to complain (with a healthy limit), but make sure it never ends there. As a scrum master, you already know how to make order out of chaos, so this will be a piece of cake for you – make sure you write down all the good and weak things and prepare action points.

Most probably you won’t be able to prepare them for all issues (somehow column “to improve” is usually longer than “went well” :)) but make sure you prioritise with the team, discuss at least 2-3 most painful ones and create action points for them. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, make it in baby steps, but make certain after each session at least one step towards your goal is made. 

Keep track of it!

As soon as a headache doesn’t disturb you for months you tend to forget that at some point some cure was actually effective. Like the problem never existed. But you spent time finding the best solution. And this has to be remembered. Keep track of the retros and find 5 min to check how the previous retro looked like and how many action points got implemented. Maybe some haven’t been touched at all?

Remind the team what has been done and make them feel proud, heard and see the progress. Make them feel powerful. And when they do – it’s your step to a self-managing team which knows how to communicate, solve issues, appreciate changes and move on.

There are more negative scenarios to that as well, but that I will keep for the next article 🙂


What do you think about it? Do you have the same or different observations? Try and share your feedback!


If you are interested in the area of ​​Agile and project management, check other articles by our experts: in Polish and in English.

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Vladyslava Dmytriieva

Vlada is a Delivery Manager in e-commerce projects, PM in the past with 7 years of experience in Agile and waterfall projects, managing distributed teams working in the global international arena.

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