Sprint Retrospectives and How They Can be Used to Your Advantage
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Software development and testing has come a long way since the first computer bug was identified. Now, there are a whole range of tools (both manual and automated) and processes that aid developers and engineers to create their products.
You may be inclined to think that sprint retrospectives involve looking at old footage of legends such as Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, or Car Lewis. While those are indeed great sprinters, they have nothing to do with the field of software and app testing, so ignore that initial inclination for now.
So, what are sprint retrospectives in the context of software testing? What advantages do they offer in terms of workflow and development? Can they help with work time management techniques? And, perhaps most importantly, how do you use them within your current frameworks of development and testing?
What are sprint retrospectives?
The first thing to look at are sprints themselves. After all, how can you consider a retrospective on something unless you understand the original concept or methodology?
As the name suggests, sprints involve a "burst of speed". To be more specific, a sprint is a short period of time when your scrum team strives to complete a set task or amount of work. The idea is to improve results at faster speeds and are usually set in the project planning stage. As with any aspect of software development/engineering, you want to review results to improve the process in the future.
Enter sprint retrospectives. These are meetings where the teams involved in your sprints come together to analyze the work they have done (and results obtained) in order to try and improve the performance of future sprints. Participants in these retrospectives usually include all relevant stakeholders in the sprint process; scrum masters, developers, and product owner (or project supervisor).
Sprint retrospectives can be an important part of your Agile Manifesto and can serve two primary purposes. Firstly, they are a way of reviewing previous sprints and identifying any potential ways of improving future sprints. Secondly, they can bring all your team members of different disciplines together and ensure they are all singing from the same song sheet. And they are an important step in your Agile Manifesto.
Retrospectives can identify shortcomings or mistakes in previous sprints, brainstorm solutions to any issues being faced, or simply improve future performance through communication and understanding. They can also help more clearly define the roles of different team members and clarify who is responsible for what tasks.
When you have development and release schedules to meet, for example, when releasing important ecommerce apps, then efficient workflows are crucial.
To summarize, you would plan to hold sprint retrospectives for the following list of reasons:
- Analyzing previous performance
- Identify both good and bad elements of that performance as well as gaps/omissions
- Improve decision-making for future sprints
- Increase productivity and efficiency levels of future sprints through better planning
- Can help your business grow through better decision-making and planning
- Can gain insights from various team members to improve processes
Sprint retrospective vs. sprint review
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Tech terminology can often be confusing, and so it is the case with sprints. People often get sprint retrospective confused with sprint review, so what is the difference? Probably the easiest way to differentiate between the two is that the review focuses on the specific product, while the retrospective focuses more on the process.
Sprint reviews look at the outcome of the sprint itself and can decide on any future changes or adaptations needed. In a review, your scrum team would present their sprint results to your primary stakeholders and progress towards your final goal would be discussed.
A review discusses what was involved in the sprint and whether the goals or tasks set were accomplished. It can also lead to decision-making regarding what happens next and what goals or tasks need to be prioritized. The one thing to note about a sprint review is that it does not consist of merely a presentation; it is a working discussion where all present should have inputs.
Sprint reviews take place before a retrospective. The review looks at what has been accomplished (and what needs to be done next), while the retrospective looks at how things were accomplished and whether processes and workflows can be improved for the next planned sprint.
How to run efficient sprint retrospectives
Sprint retrospectives can be incredibly useful in improving future sprint work and making your team more efficient and productive. But how do you get from A to B? What factors can ensure that any retrospectives are efficient and contribute to future work?
1. Involve all relevant team members
As the retrospective should look at all aspects of your sprint process, it is crucial that everyone who played a significant part in the sprint is involved in the retrospective process. Your sprints are the collective effort of the relevant teams/team members, and can involve aspects of manual work and automated tools, so your retrospectives should reflect that and involve all those who worked on the sprint.
While attendance is important, actual participation is just as crucial. Whoever leads the retrospective has to ensure that all attendees offer their thoughts and opinions. All viewpoints are equally valid, no matter how small a part that person played in the sprint itself. After all, that viewpoint may be the one that helps improve your future sprints.
3. Don’t forget the data!
Sprint retrospectives are not just about discussion and opinions. At the heart of an efficient retrospective lies the analysis of the processes involved in the sprint. To analyze properly, you need all the relevant data. Collect that data in advance of the retrospective, separate it into subjects where appropriate, and distribute prior to the meeting so your team members have time to both consider the data and any queries they may have.
4. Keep it civil
Inevitably, there are going to be occasions when things have either gone wrong or been done wrongly. The whole purpose of a retrospective is to improve the efficiency and productivity of future sprints. That means encouraging healthy debate and identifying solutions and improvements, while avoiding pointing fingers and apportioning blame.
5. Don’t rush things
As mentioned, things can go wrong. If your retrospective identifies multiple areas where errors have been made (or where improvements can be made in future), it is crucial that you neither panic nor rush things. If you find multiple errors, list them in order of priority where possible. You should also remember that when there are multiple errors, you may not be able to rectify them all within the timeframe of your next scheduled sprint.
6. Taking ownership
While it can be important to avoid playing the blame game, it is equally important that team members take ownership of errors whenever they can. By accepting responsibility, it is easier to move forward, identify a solution or workaround, and avoid the same error in future. Putting your hand up and saying mea culpa can be a positive contribution in most retrospective scenarios.
7. Accept negatives with the positives
A perfect retrospective is rare. Mistakes happen, and there is nearly always room for improvement. When negatives are identified, don’t be hard on yourself or your team. Balance the negatives with positives and see how you can improve in future sprints. Don’t let retrospectives descend into doom and gloom, even when you identify multiple errors. Maintaining quality is essential and should be part of your core culture.
8. Plan, plan, and plan some more
The whole idea of a retrospective is to highlight errors (or areas that can be improved) in previous sprints, so as to make future sprints more efficient and productive. That means you need to come up with plans and strategies that are actionable and will lead to identifiable improvements come the next retrospective. Discuss the plan, tweak the plan, agree on the plan, then ensure it is shared with all relevant parties.
At the end of your retrospective meeting, allow some time for wrapping up. That period can include a summary of the main points raised, summarizing any action plan that has been agreed, and also listing any points or errors that you won't be able to deal with by the time the next sprint is scheduled so they can be carried over to your next retrospective. By including this in your meeting, you can check everyone understands any part they have to play in agreed improvements.
It doesn’t matter whether your organization’s focus is on a lifestyle business or on SaaS products. Sprint retrospectives can offer tangible improvements to your sprint processes and workflows. They create opportunities for improving how you work and how you approach product development.
Sprint retrospectives, and ensuing improvements to the sprint process itself, can have wide-ranging effects beyond the product development. For example, you could be working on products to help automate and improve a company’s affiliate marketing funnel. By improving the sprint processes at the development level, you can pass improvements and increased efficiency onto that marketing funnel process too.
Need more help? Check out the Zentao blog. They have more articles on project management tools, software management, building cross-functional teams, and so much more.
Author bio :
Kate Priestman - Head Of Marketing, Global App Testing
Kate Priestman is the Head of Marketing at Global App Testing, a trusted and leading end-to-end functional testing solution and software diversity for QA challenges. Kate has over 8 years of experience in the field of marketing, helping brands achieve exceptional growth. She has extensive knowledge on brand development, lead and demand generation, and marketing strategy — driving business impact at its best. Kate Priestman also published articles for domains such as VMblog and Stackify.