Five Reasons You’ll Be Asked to Cancel Sprint Retros – and Why to Say No

The sprint retrospective is one of the main Agile ceremonies. By definition, it is an opportunity for the team to reflect on the work completed over a short period of time and make changes. However important that may seem, eventually, you’ll consider canceling your team retros.

The more I’ve worked on software projects, the more I’ve noticed that the retro is the first meeting to get cut from the normal sprint cadence. I am a big fan of retros and could argue that they are the most important meeting for a team. So why does this meeting end up getting canceled?

It happens for a variety of reasons, but the ones below are the most common I’ve heard. If you happen to encounter these comments about retros, I’ve put together some rebuttals to help you justify holding the meeting.

1. Everything is going so well–what do we even need to talk about?

From: the team

The retro is not just for reflecting on the areas where the team could improve, but also and just as importantly, the areas that are going WELL. It’s important to celebrate small wins throughout the period and to note any items that the team should work on and adjust. Sometimes, little things people are doing go under the radar. The retro is an especially good place to highlight those good habits and spread them to the rest of the team.

2. We do the same thing every retro; it’s boring.

From: the team

This is an easy one. There are so many activities to help make retros more interesting. An easy change is to rotate people through facilitating the session. It doesn’t always have to be the Project Lead, Delivery Lead, or Scrum Master. Each person brings a unique approach and perspective, so having everyone take a turn can definitely change things up.

If you want to try different activities, check out Fun Retrospectives. I like Marginal Gains and One Word Before Leaving, but there are a lot of different ideas here.

3. People aren’t going to be honest, so what’s really going to change?

From: the team

Ideally, the retro is a safe space where the team can talk about issues without blame. This means that areas of improvement should be discussed as they relate to the work, not to the people. However, this can be hard if team members fundamentally don’t trust each other. (See my post: Three Ways to Build Trust & Safety as a Team Leader). If trust is an issue for your team, you might want to first focus the retros on team building activities. Later, you can shift to more traditional retro activities.

4. We have a deadline and we need that extra time!

From: the team and/or management

Here’s a secret: If you are very behind on a deadline, cutting a half hour or hour every two weeks is not going to get you on track. There are broader issues that need to be addressed, and holding the retro will help shed light on these items earlier so the team can make adjustments and meet those deadlines.

If the team is feeling overworked or like they have unrealistic deadlines, this time can also be used to help formulate ideas and a plan for management.

Why are we paying people to just talk about their feelings?

From: management

This is a tough one, and it typically comes from senior management. It usually means that management hasn’t bought into Agile and the continuous improvement process. That alone can take some time and education. Here’s the message I would share:

Life is busy and hectic, and it’s hard during work to take time to stop and reflect. During the retro, though, everyone can stop and reflect on what they did. This time will not only make the team get better. It will also deliver the best value to customers. You don’t want to go months and months working through a broken process when something could have been highlighted in Week 3 and adjusted.

Management likes when you talk about value to customers and how to make them happy, so try to at least mention that point.

Hopefully, these explanations will help you if you’re ever questioned about the importance of these meetings. Have you ever been asked to cancel your team retros? If so, what did you do?

  • Shilpa says:

    Well the above are really common ones that usually come up from team for not having the retro, Thanks for the justification provided.

    I came up with a situation where the team suggesting to have one dedicated day in two weeks of sprint may be like a long meeting for 3 hours or so and cover “Sprint Review, Retro, Upcoming sprint planning and even the Backlog refinement”.
    Team justification is that they are okay to make up their minds for such a half day long meeting and enjoy all the free space for rest of the two weeks with just DSM in a day. This would give a lot of time to just focus on the work with no meetings as distraction.

    Anyone , any thoughts please?

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