Why Your Retrospectives (May) Suck

I work as a ScrumMaster since 2005. So my first retrospective was about 10 years ago. Many many retrospectives before. Not all of them were shiny and glittering. And the more I run them, the more I understand why. There are common reasons why retrospectives may not be effective. Here are the most common pitfalls I've seen in my practice of mentoring ScrumMasters.


A lot is said on the topic of retrospectives. It is actually the only Scrum ceremony that has books written on it. That underlines its importance and also the implied complexity. So I won't be repeating all the theory.  Just my observations.

5. YASM'ism or "Yet Another Scrum Meeting" Syndrome

'Scrum' is nothing but a wrapper around what you had done before your management started to call it 'Scrum'. It has no meaning, its roots haven't grown into the soil of your company culture. People don't expect changes and are not ready to accept their responsibility to shape their work processes.

4. Overcooked

Your retrospectives are a lot of fun.  The ScrumMaster (you?) keeps bringing all these cool games, cards, balls, toys... The format never repeat. It is always new and fun... But the meeting is not taken seriously by the attendees, they come to relax and get entertained. 

3. Complainer's Club

The format of retrospective might include deep discussions on core issues the team brings: customers, users, product managers, other teams... But it is always someone else or something else that the team is blaming and complaining about. Retrospectives is a club where people excuse themselves for not taking actions. 

2. ScrumMaster Takes It All

Blaming culture has been stopped. Now the team is taking it seriously. They discuss obstacles and failures and try to learn from them. They dig and analyze the issues to find the root causes. The ScrumMaster (you?) helps the team brainstorm on possible corrective actions. But at the end of the meeting it is the ScrumMaster's name that is written on all cards. Changes happen, but it is not helping the team grow. 

1. ... And Nothing Changes

Your retrospectives can be as shiny as you want. But if they don't drive the change, they have no value.


How to call the team to take responsibility to the actions? How to check that the planned changes are being made? How to design a retrospective that increases the willingness of the team to take actions?


Check out my mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.




The book explains in greater details all the 16 exercises of the cheat sheet.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Sam Lude (Monday, 27 June 2016 08:56)

    Hello, I really enjoyed your article. It brought up very important matters.
    I would also add: under any circumstances don't turn your retrospectives into a blame game. Nobody wants that.
    I read a counter to yours article just the other day. It's mostly about how to DO retrospectives: http://kanbantool.com/blog/why-would-you-do-retrospectives