Building High-Performance Teams With Sprint Retrospectives: A Guide for R&D Managers and CTOs

Make Some Noise
Building high-performance teams with sprint retrospectives: A guide for R&D managers and CTOs
Make Some Noise

One of the most impactful practices in building high performance teams is the sprint retrospective. If you’re not familiar with the term, sprint retrospective, it originally comes from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, developed by 17 software practitioners in 2001.

At Inertia we use agile project management methods for hardware product development of medical devices and life science diagnostics equipment. We use agile methods to help create high performing teams who go fast, do great work, and enjoy working with each other. Not only that, using agile methods also allow our teams to deliver outstanding customer experiences.

Part of the agile project management process calls for teams to reflect on their recently completed body of work (called a sprint) through what’s known as a retrospective.

What is a Sprint Retrospective?

A sprint retrospective is a meeting held at the conclusion of a sprint, right after the Sprint Review. We typically plan our sprints for two weeks as it seems to find a good balance between planning time and working time for the projects we have.

The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the development team to reflect upon their own performance, inspect how the last sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools. Identify and order the major items that went well and potential improvements. Create a plan for implementing improvements to the way the development team does its work.

Benefits of Sprint Retrospectives

  • Higher team autonomy, collaboration, and ownership: by allowing the project team to self-assess their own project, and their own performance, they are more committed and engaged in planning and executing their work as well as making things better.
  • Higher team satisfaction: Retrospectives provides the team with the opportunity to give feedback about satisfaction not just relating directly to the project itself but also with respect to their own personal satisfaction in life at that moment in time.
  • Continuous Improvement: Retrospectives provides a format whereby each team member gives feedback as to opportunities and challenges real-time, allowing for immediate action by the team itself.

How We Conduct Sprint Retrospectives

We have a set agenda and format so that we can move effectively and efficiently through this and get on with the work better than before. Here it is:

1. How did the team perform last sprint in terms of people, relationship, process, tools and health & safety?

When answering that question, we ask the team to rate their experience based on a scale of 0-10. We then use the Net Promoter Score calculation method to calculate the NPS for the sprint. These results are then charted across the entire project duration. See NPS 1 in the sample project chart below which illustrates the answers to this question.

2. How happy are you in life right now?

This second question might seem like a little TMI (too much information) for a business environment but satisfaction in business and personal life can be so highly interdependent. Perhaps if a teammate is struggling right now, you might be more empathetic to their performance at work or simply reach out to do or say something to make their day better

There is no follow-up or reason that needs to be shared with your answer as it is personal. We do not record the individual scores but use this to get an indicator of team well-being. Every question should be answered honestly, and all team members vote at the same time, so they don’t influence each other.

With a hybrid team, we use MS Teams to hold this meeting and so when it comes time for everyone to respond to the questions, the scrum master calls out an audible “3-2-1 vote!” countdown and the team inputs their responses simultaneously live – again so that individuals don’t influence each other’s answers.

The reasoning behind asking question #2 is that it is a known fact that happiness is strongly correlated with team well-being. So, a team that’s happy will also be more efficient, more cohesive, more ready for the tasks at hand and will deliver higher quality products.

See NPS 2 from a sample project in the chart below.

Agile Team Performance Graph

Next, there are a series of more subjective follow up questions, which guides the rest of the meeting. Every team member can express why they didn’t vote for an NPS score of 10. Questions that are asked of everyone are:

3. What was the task you most enjoyed during this sprint?

4. What was the task you least enjoyed during this sprint?

5. What could we have done better?

6. What decisions are made and what action items will we carry out to improve upon the last sprint?

These answers are recorded in the sprint retrospective meeting minutes project sheet for future reference/reflection.

Retrospectives Meeting Minutes

Additional questions asked of the team are:

  • Was the sprint goal achieved?
  • Was there any scope change over the past sprint?
  • What was the % scope completed

This might sound like it takes some time, and it does at first but we can usually get through it in less than one hour, which is 1.3% of the duration of the sprint to put it in perspective. It’s always important to balance the time taken to manage the project with doing the work on it.

Impact of Agile Practices

The benefit of agile project management practices is that, when a team is fully aligned, knows their goal, they can:

  • Execute up to 2x faster: sooner to revenue and outpace competitors
  • Product higher quality outputs less waste, better alignment
  • Increase team happiness
  • Increase customer happiness
  • Increase capital efficiency: less cost, higher productivity, higher valuations

Learn More

Want to learn more about how to create high performance medical device and life science diagnostic development teams? Contact us today.

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