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How To Run an Effective Retrospective Meeting in 30 Minutes or Less

How to run a retrospective meetings in 30 minutes or less

Retrospectives are a key part of agile software delivery, giving team members a forum to express gratitude, concerns, and other sentiments about ongoing projects. 

However, in the grind of day-to-day work, the retrospective is often one of the first calendar events to get dropped. Simply put, when deadlines are looming, and 5 p.m. is approaching, it’s an easy meeting for people to look at and say, “Let’s skip it.” 

One way to combat this is to ensure your retrospective has a tight, efficient retrospective meeting agenda – one that ensures team members feel their time is being respected. 

Below, I’m going to share my quick “how-to” guide to accomplish just that. 

Selecting a Retrospective Meeting Tool 

There are a myriad of online platforms for running retrospectives. While I certainly haven’t tested them all, I’m partial to Reetro for a few reasons: 

  • No account creation required – participants can log in as guests 
  • Intuitive voting functionality 
  • Intuitive view for tracking action items 
  • Robust free version with an option to buy additional functionality 

When finding the platform that’s right for you, I would recommend looking for features like these. Keep in mind that you can also build your own tool using something like Google Docs, Confluence, or even Slack. 

Before Your Retrospective Meeting: Preparation is Key 

The first step in running an efficient retrospective takes place the day before your meeting. 

  1. Create a board with three columns:
    • Went Well/Shout-outs 
    • To Improve
    • Action Items
  2. Make the board editable by team members 
  3. Share the board with team members, asking them to add discussion points to the first two columns in advance. Completing this step a day early will save valuable minutes during the actual retrospective. 

Below is what my board looks like in Reetro. In the “Edit Board Details” options under the “Settings” menu, I typically make the board public. That way, participants can join as guests and don’t have to worry about creating an account. 

Don’t feel nervous about making the board public, as outsiders would have to guess an impossible URL to view it.

The Retrospective Meeting Agenda 

The First 3 Minutes 

Begin the session by reviewing open action items. The end goal of a retrospective is to produce meaningful, actionable next steps – so regularly reviewing these is key for accountability. 

If progress has not been made on the action item, ask the assignee why – and see if the team can do anything to help. 

If the action item is in progress, ask when it will be complete. 

If the action item is complete, mark it as such. 

Reetro offers a Kanban-like view for viewing action items logged across retrospectives: 

Next 3 Minutes 

Direct team members toward the three-column board and start a timer for three minutes. Participants should use this time to any additional discussion points to the Went Well/Shout-outs and To Improve columns. This is an intentionally short timebox, as most items should’ve been logged the day before. 

Next 1 Minute 

Start a one-minute timer and ask team members to upvote items in both columns that resonate the most with them. 

Some retrospective tools, including Reetro, also offer a downvote button. I avoid using this, as downvoting someone’s discussion point can be counterproductive to a trusting environment. 

It’s your preference whether you want to limit the number of upvotes per person. 

Next 5 Minutes 

Start a timer for five minutes. Sort the Went Well/Shout-outs column by upvotes in descending order. Starting from the top, review each item with the team. 

Ensure shout-outs are heard, and emphasize items highlighting good habits the team is following. Don’t hesitate to loop in the author of a particular card if there’s additional detail to add. 

Sorting by upvotes is a safeguard in case the five minutes expires before all items have been discussed: It ensures the most resonant items are discussed. After the retrospective has concluded, it’s often a good idea for the meeting facilitator to review any leftover discussion topics and, if necessary, reach out to team members for additional context. 

Until 2 Minutes Remain 

This part of the meeting could start before the 12-minute mark, depending on how quickly you get through the prior section, but it should end before there are two minutes remaining in the meeting. 

Now, move to the To Improve column. For the same reason as above, sort it by upvotes in descending order and begin reviewing items from the top down. 

This is the meat of your retrospective, and the goal should be to produce meaningful action items that address the shortcomings team members have noted. 

After reading a card, I like to loop in the author to let them add any additional context. (This won’t work if the author has chosen to remain anonymous.) Ensure you keep the discussion moving by asking follow-up questions, and before moving to the next item, ask point-blank whether any action items should be logged. This won’t always be the case. Sometimes, topics end up being general reminders as opposed to problems needing an explicit solution. 

Final 2 Minutes 

Spend the final two minutes reviewing new action items created during the retrospective. Ensure each has an assignee, a clear ask, and (ideally) a timebox. 

In Reetro, there is a specific card type called “Action Item.” It’s important to use this type, as it will ensure those items appear in the Kanban view used during the first phrase of the retrospective. 

Final Thoughts: Retrospective Agenda 

Easy, right? Now, you’re well on your way to running an effective Retrospective in 30 minutes or less. Let’s recap your meeting agenda:  

Prep: Ask your team to add their Went Well/Shoutouts and To Improve discussion points. 

  • 0:00 – 3:00: Review open action items 
  • 3:00 – 6:00: Set 3 minute timer and have team add any additional discussion points 
  • 6:00 – 7:00: Set 1 minute timer and have team upvote discussion points 
  • 7:00 – 12:00: Sort the Went Well/Shout-outs column by upvotes and discuss 
  • 12:00 – 28:00: Sort the To Improve column by upvotes and discuss, creating meaningful action items with an assignee and timebox along the way 
  • 28:00 – 30:00: Review new action items and conclude 

Keep in mind, another reason people might want to skip retrospectives is because they can become stale. As such, it’s often good practice to mix up the format every so often.

But when you need a reliable, succinct, go-to agenda, I hope the above helps guide your team into meaningful retrospection. Happy agile!

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