Agile Retrospectives: Best Practices and Benefits

What is an Agile Retrospective?

An agile retrospective is an opportunity for agile development teams to reflect on past work together and identify ways to improve.

  • Agile teams usually hold retrospective meetings at the end of each sprint.
  • During the retrospective the team discusses what went well, what did not go as planned, and how to make the next work period/sprint better.
  • Agile retrospectives are an opportunity for every voice to be heard. There is no hierarchy in a retrospective meeting — everyone can contribute ideas, vent frustrations, and help make decisions. This fosters deeper connection and engagement.

What do Teams Discuss in Agile Retrospective Meetings?

  • Discussion items for retrospective meetings can be technical and non-technical/team-related. What matters is that the team discusses what is and is not working well.
  • The most important thing is to leave the retrospective meeting with actionable ways to improve things and work better together. These action items should be simple, effective, and easily doable within the next sprint.

Here are some examples from retrospectives we’ve done in some previous Fishtank projects:

Feedback card Action Item/comment
User stories were very clear and well-written. Keep using this user story template and writing style
Stories are too big Break down big stories into smaller pieces (smaller stories or several smaller tasks)
Several teammates struggled with the workload in the last sprint Revisit and adjust capacity estimates for all team members in the next sprint planning session.
The bi-weekly demo worked really well. The client found it informative. Continue doing bi-weekly demos in the same format

Agile Retrospective Best Practices

Ideally, agile retrospectives involve open and productive discussion, but this is not always easy.

Set an Expected Duration and Frequency

  • Retrospectives usually happen at the end of each sprint.
  • Duration is up for discussion. The team should decide how long they should spend on the retrospectives. This may also depend on the issues faced during the sprint. If there were lots of issues and things that didn’t go well that need to be discussed then the retrospective should be long enough to allow enough time to discuss and address all issues.

Come Prepared

Most of us don’t come prepared to discuss successes or issues.

  • Retrospective discussions can be fun and low-key. We don’t do this to scold anyone.
  • It’s an opportunity to reflect on things we did well, and things we can improve on.
  • Come prepared to provide feedback. This is your opportunity to air any grievances and help the team fix what we may be doing wrong, and celebrate things we did well.

Keep it Collaborative

Everyone should feel comfortable contributing (whether by speaking, writing, or voting).

Encourage Honesty

Transparency is not always easy in a team setting. Welcome a diverse range of opinions by remaining objective, asking clarifying questions, and directing criticism towards work and not individuals.

Promote Shared Responsibility

This is a very important point. Agile is a collective effort. When things go wrong - or right - the whole team is responsible, or the whole team takes credit for the success. No one should feel singled out for criticism, and recognition should be shared by all.

Do Not End the Meeting without Action Items

This is also important. By the end of the agile retrospective, the team should agree on at least one new idea to implement in the next sprint.

What are the Benefits of Retrospectives?

Someone may ask, why hold retrospectives at all? Here are some benefits:

  • Enhanced collaboration, communication, transparency, trust and team spirit (we discuss things openly, and we trust each other)
  • Improved productivity (we fix issues or processes, we become more productive)
  • Prevent past mistakes from happening again
  • Embrace the agile principles of adaptation, feedback, and incremental improvement
  • Retrospective meetings put any organization in a unique position to listen and learn from the project teams while improving the company as a whole.

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Meet Evan Kordakis

Project Manager


Evan is a Project Manager and a digital delivery professional with a strong background in the business, technical, and financial industries. He has an MBA focused on digital strategies and has managed several successful projects for many of the biggest brands in Alberta. Outside of work, Evan enjoys travelling and watching, playing, and coaching soccer.

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