Retrospectives: A Case Study on Techniques for Incremental Improvement


to work through them.

During the facilitated discussion that followed, the team was able to design solutions for the issues (Figure 3). In one case team members agreed, after analysis, that the problem was a non-issue because it would not re-occur in the next iteration. The careful build-up of the mood in the room helped the people enormously in their ability to listen to each other, without judgment, and with acceptance of responsibilities in the solution of the problems.


Figure 3: Group-developed Solutions


The most significant problems were found in areas that impacted the team's ability to deliver software at the end of a Sprint. Two examples are a process change to agree on a design freeze during a Sprint (with the designers working one Sprint ahead), and practices for conducting the daily conference calls.

We ended up with action items associated with each of the top priority items, and commitment from individuals to ensure that actions were taken.

Impact on Other Team Activities

While the results of the retrospective had some impact on the team and its Scrum implementation, the team-building had, by far, the most positive impact on later activities. With the most significant problems addressed, the team was able to work through the Sprint planning meeting, solving problems around design and work without being hindered by its largest process issues. The positive mood and trust built during the retrospective allowed team members to address hard questions in the Sprint planning meeting. They addressed questions like preferring an alternative ScrumMaster over the obvious candidate, without hesitation and with the right respect for the people involved.


About the Authors

Hubert Smits is a coach and trainer for Rally Software in Boulder, CO. He is working with teams, product managers, project managers and the leaders in the organization during their journey from waterfall and command-and-control to agile, lean, and servant-leadership. Hubert's home is Scrum, which framework he uses as a tool to introduce agile concepts to the various roles in an organization. He teaches and coaches executives in their new role as a servant leader, or teaches product management teams to work with concepts like a product backlog and user stories. With teams and their project leads he uses the Scrum framework to validate the roles in their teams, the practices they use in the projects, and the metrics which help them and the people in their environment to keep an eye on the progress they are making, (and explores what to do if that progress differs from the predicted progress). Hubert works mainly with large, often globally distributed organizations, and visit teams all over the world. Hubert can be reached at


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