Engineering, Leadership


Reflect on what worked, what didn't work, and why to identify ways to improve teamwork.

Also called: Postmortem, Afteraction review, Lookback, Retrospection, Reflection, and Review

See also: Agile Framework, Agile Manifesto, Agile Principles, Agile Product Development, Agile Product Owner, Agile Program Management Office, Agile Release Train, Agile Roadmap, Product Delivery, Product Manager

Relevant metrics: Action Items Completed, Team Engagement, Sprint Velocity, Cycle time, Employee Retention, Time to Resolution, Cost Savings, and Efficiency of Process

In this article

What is a Retrospective?

A retrospective is a meeting or event that is held to review the progress of a project or team. It is a chance for the team to reflect on what went well, what could have been done better, and what can be improved in the future. The goal of a retrospective is to identify areas of improvement and create actionable steps to move forward.

Retrospectives are typically held in a group setting, with the goal of gathering feedback from all stakeholders. During the meeting, the team will discuss the successes and failures of the project or sprint, and identify areas for improvement. The team will also discuss any changes that need to be made in order to ensure the success of future projects or sprints.

Retrospectives provide an opportunity to identify areas for improvement, and to make changes to ensure the success of future projects or sprints. Retrospectives are a valuable tool for the entire product team, as they provide an opportunity to review the product and user experience from the customer’s perspective.

Where did the concept of retrospectives come from?

Retrospective is a term derived from the Latin word “retrospectus”, which means “looking back”. It is used to describe the process of looking back at past events or experiences in order to gain insight and understanding. Retrospective can be used to refer to a specific event or period of time, or it can be used to refer to a more general process of reflection and analysis. Retrospective can also be used to refer to the practice of looking back at past decisions or actions in order to learn from them and make better decisions in the future.

Retrospectives have their origins in the principles of continuous improvement and learning organizations. The roots of these ideas can be traced back to the work of management theorists like W. Edwards Deming and Peter Senge, who emphasized the importance of learning from experience and making continuous improvements to processes.

The practice of retrospectives in the context of software development is often associated with the agile methodology, which emphasizes iterative development and continuous feedback. The concept of agile retrospectives was popularized in the early 2000s by practitioners like Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, who co-authored the book “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” in 2006. Since then, retrospectives have become a widely adopted practice in the agile community and beyond, with many different approaches and exercises developed to facilitate the process of continuous improvement.

Why conduct a retrospective?

In 2001, the concept of agile retrospectives was born as the last principle of agile development was formulated: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” The agile manifesto clearly emphasizes the need for teams to meet regularly, reflect on their work, and make necessary adjustments to better embody the agile values. While development teams most commonly host regular retrospective meetings to apply this principle, it is not the only way to retro.

Retrospectives have since expanded beyond development teams and have been integrated into various business and teamwork practices. Marketing teams retro on campaigns, management teams retro on large presentations, and companies like Atlassian are hosting retrospectives on their entire industries. This proliferation of retrospectives into all facets of business is something to be excited about.

The reason to get excited about retrospectives is that they embody the essence of agile values. Retrospective meetings are where the rubber hits the road. The core concepts in the agile manifesto are reinforced through retrospective meetings. For example, the values of individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and responding to change over following a plan, are manifested in retrospectives. The process of working with real people to make changes and improvements is at the heart of retrospectives and few things reinforce agile principles better.

The benefits of retrospectives

Retrospectives can lead to numerous benefits for teams and organizations. Firstly, they foster a culture of continuous improvement. By regularly reflecting on their work, teams can identify areas for improvement and implement changes to their process. Secondly, retrospectives provide a space for open communication and feedback. Team members can share their thoughts and ideas in a safe and collaborative environment, leading to increased transparency and trust. Finally, retrospectives can help to align team members towards a shared vision and goals. By identifying common challenges and opportunities for improvement, teams can work together towards a shared purpose.

How to conduct a retrospective

Hosting a retrospective meeting requires careful planning and facilitation. Firstly, the meeting should have a clear purpose and agenda. This can include setting goals and objectives, reviewing progress, and identifying areas for improvement.

  • The meeting should provide a safe and collaborative space for all team members to share their thoughts and ideas
  • The facilitator should encourage participation from all team members and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute.
  • The meeting should result in a clear action plan with specific steps for implementation.
  • The facilitator should assign action items to individual team members and ensure that progress is tracked and reviewed at subsequent retrospective meetings.

By hosting regular retrospective meetings, teams can identify areas for improvement, foster open communication and feedback, and work towards a shared vision and goals. With careful planning and facilitation, retrospectives can be a valuable tool for any team or organization seeking to improve their processes and outcomes.

Frequently asked question about retrospectives

What kind of team should conduct retrospectives?

All teams, regardless of industry or work methods, should frequently conduct retrospectives in order to fully develop their potential.

What are the benefits of retrospectives?

Retrospectives offer numerous benefits, including enhanced collaboration, communication, trust, and team spirit, improved team productivity, greater occurrence of lessons learned, prevention of past mistakes, and better anticipation of future problems.

How is a retrospective different from a regular team meeting?

Retrospectives are different from traditional meetings because they focus on a specific project with the goal of putting the team at the center of the discussion, giving voice to all team members, taking stock of what went well and not so well, and building an action plan together to rapidly improve team functioning on identified action points.

Who should facilitate the retrospective?

While a team member should take responsibility for hosting a retrospective, who should facilitate depends on the team’s structure. A Scrum team may rely on their Scrum Master, or an Agile Coach may have the necessary experience and skills. However, many Agile teams rotate facilitators to become self-organized and avoid falling into routine. This approach provides the team with renewed activity choices and allows every member to design and facilitate their retrospective.

What are the core topics discussed during a retrospective?

In the context of the Scrum framework, the retrospective serves to improve quality and effectiveness by inspecting the previous sprint’s performance with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. For distributed Agile teams, retrospectives may cover a more extensive range of team dimensions, including mission, ownership, value, speed, process, roles, collaboration, resources, fun, and learning. How do these topics relate to team performance and what other essential areas should be considered during a retrospective?

Retrospective topic: 10 core team dimensions

In the case of an online retrospective platform designed for distributed Agile teams, such as the one offered by our company, there are 10 core team dimensions that are offered across ready-to-use retrospective templates. These dimensions typically correspond to the main topics covered in retrospectives, although this list is not exhaustive.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the 10 dimensions of a retrospective:

  1. Mission. Whether the team is aligned with the company’s goals. In other words, does everyone know what they need to do as a team to achieve their objectives and deliver value?
  2. Ownership. Whether the team works autonomously and can make decisions on its own. Is the ownership easily identifiable from inside and outside the team?
  3. Value. Whether the value the team creates for both the business and its users is easily identifiable, measurable, and deliverable.
  4. Speed. Whether the team can deliver quality value while respecting delivery dates. Is the team working at a healthy and maintainable pace?
  5. Process. Whether the team’s processes are rightfully designed and help them deliver value. Do they feel slowed down or blocked because of them?
  6. Roles. Whether the roles and responsibilities of each team member are clear to everyone. Are all the skills necessary for the team’s success present?
  7. Collaboration. Whether collaboration is omnipresent and respectful. Does it manifest itself in constant and high-quality communication?
  8. Resources. Whether the team has access to all the material resources and support they need to accomplish their mission.
  9. Fun. Whether the team atmosphere is enjoyable and pleasant. Does each member like working as a team?
  10. Learning. Whether team members keep developing their skills through repeated learnings, cycle after cycle.

Retrospective topics according to the Scrum Guide

In a retrospective, the Scrum Guide specifies that the team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. The purpose of this inspection is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness. In other words, the team reflects on what worked well and what could be improved from the previous Sprint. These topics are continuously linked to the team and can be diverse. They aim to help the team identify areas for improvement and come up with concrete action items to address them.

How often should a team hold retrospectives for sustainable impact on productivity and team growth?

Retrospectives should be held frequently to see sustainable improvements in team productivity and growth. For Scrum teams, it is recommended to hold a retrospective at the end of each Sprint, which typically lasts two weeks on average. By doing so, the team can quickly reassess the impact of the action items taken during the previous retrospective. It is essential to ensure that the frequency of retrospectives is sufficient to make an impact while not disrupting the team’s workflow.

What is the ideal length for a retrospective meeting?

Retrospectives are not meant to be meetings that go on forever. In fact, just two 90-minute retrospectives a month can give a team more than enough time to optimize their efficiency. However, the ideal length of a retrospective meeting may depend on various factors, such as team size and the complexity of the project. The team should decide on the appropriate duration that works best for them.

What is the maximum timeboxed duration for a Sprint Retrospective according to the Scrum Guide?

According to the Scrum Guide, the maximum timeboxed duration for a Sprint Retrospective is three hours for a one-month Sprint. For shorter Sprints, the event is usually shorter. This timebox provides a clear deadline for the team to work within and helps to ensure that the meeting remains focused and productive. It is important to adhere to this timebox to avoid wasting time and resources while still allowing sufficient time for the team to discuss important topics and make decisions.

Building a retrospective action plan

Retrospectives are not complete without an action plan. The purpose of the action plan is to ensure that the insights and feedback generated during the retrospective are put into action. An effective action plan outlines concrete steps that the team can take to improve its performance and processes.

Examples of action items in a retrospective can include improving communication channels, addressing individual skill gaps, enhancing collaboration, or adopting new technologies or methodologies.

Here are three tips for building an effective action plan:

  • Prioritize. Determine which action items have the highest impact and are achievable in the short-term. It is important to avoid overwhelming the team with too many action items.
  • Assign Responsibility. Ensure that each action item is assigned to a specific team member or group responsible for executing the action. This helps to avoid ambiguity and ensures accountability.
  • Make it SMART. The action plan should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. SMART goals help to ensure that the action plan is practical and results-oriented.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For an action item to be SMART, it should clearly state what needs to be done, how it will be measured, who will be responsible for it, why it is important, and when it will be completed.

When assigning action items to team members, it is important to avoid overburdening them. It is also essential to provide the necessary resources and support to help them achieve their assigned tasks. It is crucial to avoid blaming individuals for any issues that arise during the retrospective. Instead, focus on collaborating as a team to find practical solutions.

An effective retrospective is not complete without a solid action plan. An actionable plan will help the team put their insights and feedback into practice and improve their performance and processes. By following the tips outlined above, teams can build an effective action plan that will drive productivity and growth.

SMART goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For an action item to be SMART, it should clearly state what needs to be done, how it will be measured, who will be responsible for it, why it is important, and when it will be completed.

In the context of retrospectives, having SMART action items can help teams identify and address specific issues, track progress, and hold team members accountable.

When building SMART action items, it’s important to avoid vague or ambiguous language, such as “improve” or “enhance,” as this can make it difficult to determine whether or not the goal has been achieved. It’s also important to avoid assigning too many action items to one team member or creating action items that are too complex or difficult to achieve within a reasonable timeframe.

Having SMART action items can help teams achieve their goals and make meaningful progress during retrospectives.

Challenges of implementing retrospectives

Implementing retrospectives as a household ceremony may face some challenges, both at the team and organizational level. Here are some typical challenges that households may encounter:

  • Resistance to Change. People are often reluctant to change their established routines and may resist the introduction of a new practice.
  • Time Management. It may be difficult to find a convenient time for everyone to participate in a retrospective, especially if team members have busy schedules or conflicting priorities.
  • Lack of Engagement. Some team members may not be interested in retrospectives or may not see their value. This lack of engagement can undermine the effectiveness of the practice and may discourage others from participating.
  • Accountability. Without a clear understanding of who is responsible for implementing action items, there is a risk that nothing will change as a result of the retrospective.
  • Unequal Participation. There is also a risk of unequal participation, with some team members dominating the conversation and others remaining silent. This can lead to a lack of balance in the retrospective and may result in some issues not being addressed.
  • Limited Objectivity. Team dynamics can make it difficult to have objective and honest discussions during a retrospective. Some team members may be hesitant to speak up about issues or may feel uncomfortable discussing sensitive topics.
  • Sustainability. Sustaining the practice of retrospectives can be a challenge. It is easy to start off with good intentions, but it can be difficult to maintain momentum and keep everyone engaged over time.



Toyota is known for its “Kaizen” philosophy, which emphasizes continuous improvement through regular retrospectives. They use a process called “Hansei” to reflect on past performance and identify areas for improvement.


Google has been using retrospectives to improve its product development process for many years. They have developed their own framework called “Project Aristotle” to guide their retrospective process.


IBM has been using retrospectives as part of its continuous improvement process for decades. They use a framework called “Lessons Learned” to reflect on past projects and identify areas for improvement.

Relevant questions to ask
  • What is the purpose of the retrospective?
    Hint The purpose of the retrospective is to review the past project or sprint, identify successes and areas for improvement, and create actionable items for the future.
  • What is the desired outcome of the retrospective?
    Hint The desired outcome of the retrospective is to create a plan for improvement and to ensure that the team is working together effectively.
  • What is the timeline for the retrospective?
    Hint The timeline for the retrospective will depend on the size and complexity of the project or sprint.
  • Who will be involved in the retrospective?
    Hint Everyone involved in the project or sprint should be involved in the retrospective.
  • What methods will be used to facilitate the retrospective?
    Hint Methods used to facilitate the retrospective may include brainstorming, voting, and discussion.
  • What topics will be discussed during the retrospective?
    Hint Topics discussed during the retrospective may include successes, areas for improvement, and actionable items.
  • What resources are available to support the retrospective?
    Hint Resources available to support the retrospective may include project documentation, team feedback, and other relevant materials.
  • How will the results of the retrospective be documented and shared?
    Hint The results of the retrospective should be documented and shared with the team in a timely manner.
  • How will the results of the retrospective be used to inform future decisions?
    Hint The results of the retrospective should be used to inform future decisions and to ensure that the team is working together effectively.
People who talk about the topic of Retrospective on Twitter
Relevant books on the topic of Retrospective
  • Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen (2006)
  • Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives: A Toolbox of Retrospective Exercises by Luis Gonçalves and Ben Linders (2013)
  • The Retrospective Handbook: A Guide for Agile Teams by Patrick Kua (2013)
  • Fun Retrospectives: Activities and Ideas for Making Agile Retrospectives More Engaging by Taina Caetano and Paulo Caroli (2015)
  • Agile Retrospectives - Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen & Ken Schwaber (2006)
  • Retrospective Anti-patterns by Aino Corry (2020)

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