Retrospective Meetings: Looking Back to Move Forward

retro meetings

Every team wants to be the best at what they do. In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s easy to see ourselves racing to get projects done, seeing tasks as hurdles in front of us to be jumped. Once we’re over those hurdles, those prior obstacles now exist immediately behind us, and we’re already focused on the next thing directly ahead. Working life is a perpetual race it seems, and like real athletes who take time between events to review their performance, train, and improve, it’s also beneficial for us to stop and take stock of what we do and how to improve what we’re doing. This is where the retrospective meeting comes in!

What is a Retrospective Meeting?

The retrospective meeting is meant to be a gathering planned with the specific goal of planning ways to increase quality and effectiveness. 1 It’s usually held at the end of a sprint and is meant to take a look back at the work that was just completed to identify problems that came up and how they were addressed, as well as highlight issues that went smoothly and how we might be able to use that experience to make other issues less arduous.

Fun Fact that should help any future Google adventures: different teams refer to this type of meeting in different ways, and it’s also referred to as a retro (for short), but also as a ‘debriefing’, a ‘post-mortem’, or a ‘reflection workshop. 2 It’s most commonly called a ‘sprint retro’, however, you should choose what’s best for your team!

This process is not limited to the project itself. It’s also meant to hold a magnifying glass up to specific processes, interactions and even individuals that help (or hinder) the process, and recommend changes, or give advice to try and mitigate issues in the future for a smoother sailing project next time. 3 It’s a way for teams to come together and self-analyze, with the ultimate goal of gradual self-improvement across the team.

So how can you plan to implement these types of meetings successfully? The first step should be noting what exactly the expectations for the project are from the outset, and then tracking those expectations against the realities that were encountered throughout the project. 4 What were the results once the project is done? What improvements can be made? Having this specific data and being able to communicate the results to your team is a fantastic springboard for a retrospective meeting.

Rest assured you won’t be the only person actively participating in this meeting! Team participation is paramount to a successful retro. So, what can you do to help your team maximize its potential in this setting? For starters, making sure that your Retrospective is planned regularly for the end of sprints is useful, because it makes everyone on the team aware that it’s a regular occurrence, and to keep an eye out during the project for issues that should be revisited to make future efforts easier.

It should also be mentioned that while transparency is key, your team members are a bit more exposed in a meeting like this. While keeping that in mind, holding back on what went wrong can also be detrimental because it may shine a light on a specific individual’s performance (for good or ill). It’s important that the meeting is open, with a focus on improvement and not on blame so that your team is more forthcoming about their own performance and how to improve. 5

Also Read: A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Meeting Agenda

Keep Retrospectives Short

It should also be mentioned that respecting the time of your team members is also important. A multi-hour meeting for a short sprint is likely to not go over well. Keeping a brisk pace will certainly help in this regard. Retrospective content should be tailored to the project that just completed and delivered within a framework that is easy for the team to digest crucial information from. There are many ways to accomplish this, including the ‘Sailboat’ and ‘Glad/Sad/Mad’ meeting templates, 6 as well as others. Setting these expectations in the meeting itself will go a long way towards helping the process go smoothly.

Identifying problem areas, being transparent, and a focus on self-improvement: These are the ultimate goals for a retrospective. While this article serves to tell you what they are and why they are important, many opt to skip these meetings, and my hope is to change that… by now I should hope that the reasons for doing so are self-evident. There are many ways to hold a retrospective, many methods of spurring team inclusion and many ways to go about implementing meaningful changes, but at the end of the day, the meeting is about staying Agile. Every team is different and has different needs, and there are some methods and guides out there for running a smooth and successful meeting. 7


  1. The 2020 Scrum GuideTM – Scrum Guides
  2. Heartbeat Retrospective – Agile Alliance
  3. What is a Sprint Retrospective? – Scrum.Org
  4. How to Run Retrospective Meetings that Aren’t Pointless – Complish
  5. The Empirical Retrospective Approach – Mountain Goat Software
  6. 5 fun sprint retrospective ideas with templates – Atlassian
  7. Retrospective – Atlassian

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