In Scrum projects, retrospectives are an integral part of project work. They are used to analyze the previous sprint in order to learn from mistakes as well as positive events. This is intended to continuously improve teamwork and ensure project success. A retrospective designed for feedback from customers, superiors and colleagues also offers the opportunity to benefit from this for personal development.
The feedback from people in the direct work environment is particularly valuable in Scrum, because even experienced managers often find it difficult to give constructive feedback to their employees if they do not work directly with them. However, feedback discussions in the project team also harbor some challenges that need to be mastered: for example, some colleagues do not want to be perceived as “know-it-alls” and therefore do not dare to openly point out weaknesses and strengths of others. Others express criticism and are surprised when there are negative reactions.
The feedback process is particularly challenging in teams that have a very heterogeneous structure: for example, if the customer’s employees belong to the team, or also in project groups that are composed of employees from several organizational units. There are often inhibitions that hinder open and honest exchange. And even if there is both a need and a desire for feedback, there is often a lack of knowledge of how to conduct a dialogue and which rules make sense for feedback.
The method explained below provides team members with a framework for giving themselves fair and constructive feedback. This approach was developed for the retrospective of project teams, where software developers, supervisors and employees of the customer work together and each have a very different wealth of experience. In other words, groups whose composition makes direct and open feedback – as well as constructive use of it – noticeably more difficult.
The following eight steps help to design a retrospective in such a way that it is relatively easy to provide open and valuable feedback for the individual.The planned process and the specific questions ensure that the participants actually give constructive feedback and show appreciation for one another . Of course, the Scrum Master can also actively participate in the retrospective as a team member – in this case, however, an external moderator must lead the feedback round.
- Retrospective and feedback in Scrum projects
Scrum managers have the opportunity to improve project success by analyzing the sprint. The retrospective and the feedback from the team members are useful – a process that the Scrum Manager must moderate with diplomacy. The following methodology with worksheets has proven itself.
- Feedback – step 1
For the retrospective, each team member receives a prepared sheet with his name and two questions: “What can you expect from me?” and “What do I expect from the team?”
- Feedback – step 2
The feedback form is supplemented by two areas: “What I appreciate about your work …” and “What I wish you to do better …”
- Feedback step 3
The feedback sheet is passed on to the table neighbors, filled in by them and passed on until each participant has his personal sheet in front of him again – now with the written feedback of all team members involved.
- self reflection
Two other areas are added – they serve to reflect on the feedback received: “I’m proud of this …” and “I’ll take it with me …”
- Procedural pattern
According to this basic pattern, retrospectives can be repeated again at a later point in time.
You will need: a sheet marked by name and prepared with the appropriate questions / areas for each participant, ideally in DIN A2 format, a sufficiently large table and felt-tip pens.
A little exercise to get started should allow the teammates a different, relaxed setting and distance them from day-to-day business. Examples of possible tasks:
Everyone should tell something about themselves that the others don’t yet know, or
everyone tells a truth and a lie about themselves – the team has to guess what is a lie.
Time frame: approx. 15 minutes.
The retrospective begins with the participants’ self-reflection. This makes it clear to everyone that it is primarily about the individual. To do this, each participant answers the following two questions in writing on their own sheet:
Time frame: approx. 10 minutes.
The feedback round begins after the initial phase. For this purpose, all participants should note the following two sentences on their personal sheet:
Afterwards, each participant passes on his hand to his table neighbors. This completes the two areas mentioned above in writing. The moderator or Scrum Master should emphasize again that the answers should not relate to the person, but to the work done.
The specific formulation of the feedback areas ensures that the feedback is expressed in accordance with the values, even in the case of obvious criticisms. Aspects already noted by other team members may not be repeated, but may be clarified or explained using concrete examples.
This part of the task is repeated until each participant has his personal sheet in front of him again. The result: everyone wrote down praise and improvement potential for everyone.
Time frame: 7 minutes per lap.
The retrospective now switches from mutual feedback to self-reflection. Everyone reads their personal feedback, which the other team members have noted on the sheet. Self-reflection can become more valuable by asking participants questions about the feedback they have received. This can create an open dialogue that helps the individual participants.
Here, the moderator should explicitly think about the team dynamics: accusations and justifications need to be prevented. If necessary, basic feedback rules should be explained again before entering the dialog, for example sending an ego message, according to the feedback model “WWWW” – perception, effect, desire, values - or according to the model “BAHN” – observation , Impact, background, demand.
The following questions can also help to set personal priorities, which is why two areas are provided on the sheet:
Time frame: 10 minutes.
After the self-reflection, each participant explains to the other team members which of the aspects noted seem particularly relevant to them personally. In order to actually be able to make changes, everyone should only set one or two priorities for personal improvement and try to improve them sustainably, instead of just tackling many aspects a bit. The decision as to what is made transparent to the team – and what is not – is made by each individual.
The self-disclosure can be expanded by asking participants who want to help colleagues with certain aspects.
Time frame: 2 minutes per participant.
At the end of the retrospective, everyone should
briefly explain what surprised them about this feedback round and / or what they particularly liked.
Time frame: 1-2 minutes per participant
The Scrum Master should encourage the participants to look at and reflect on the feedback from time to time; they may be able to actively remind the team after a few weeks. It can also make sense to hold another retrospective after five to six months, which either builds on the previous one or is only repeated in the same form.
The form of retrospective described here has already been practiced several times in software development teams that work with Scrum and was considered helpful by them. It has proven particularly useful when working with teams that have been working together on a project for a while, but in which the open exchange is difficult due to very heterogeneous structures. If it is clear that the team will remain in this composition for a longer period of time, this form of feedback can help to improve cooperation and productivity noticeably.
The method is also suitable for feedback rounds in the context of team meetings. At the employee’s request, the results can also be taken into account in the regular employee review meeting. The goal is always to show appreciation for the colleagues and at the same time to reduce your own blind spot with regard to personal improvement potential.