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Ask retrospective questions: Which methods help the team move forward?

In many work and project environments, retrospective methods are among the key tools for improving processes.  In a good retrospective, the individual questions are adapted to the circumstances and the situation is addressed individually. We have compiled the best retrospective questions so that you can carry out a good retrospective and get an overview of the possibilities.

The most important thing in brief

  • Importance of retrospective questions: Especially in agile environments such as Scrum, retrospective questions are crucial for improving processes. They enable past processes to be analyzed and problems and solutions to be identified.
  • Embedding in the process: The course of a retrospective consists of five main parts, including introduction by the moderator, brief review, questions, sorting of options and conclusion.
  • Objectives of the questions: Retrospective questions should uncover problems and find creative solutions. Positive and critical questions should be asked alternately.
  • Examples of questions: The article contains specific questions that can be asked in a retrospective, divided into positive, critical and creative aspects.
  • Methods for clarification: Various methods such as the car or airplane, the road trip or role plays can be used to support retrospective questions and facilitate understanding.


Why are retrospective questions so important?

Before we start with the retrospective questions, it makes sense to first clarify what retrospective questions actually are and why they are so important.

Retrospective questions take a look back at the past and move the team one step forward with specific questions. Some questions are also designed to strengthen team spirit.

Retrospective questions are used to find errors and problems in processes and address them in a targeted manner. Every process that is to be improved requires such a retrospective. After all, only by analyzing what went well and which parameters are still holding up or slowing down the process can ultimately lead to process improvement.

Without retrospective questions, it is not possible to determine whether a change in the course of a Scrum Mastering process has improved or perhaps even worsened. Retrospective are a great tool to improve processes in an organization.

This is why retrospective questions are so important.

How are retrospective questions used?

Retrospective questions are part of the overall review of the past. Certain processes are followed, the questions are part of these processes. The individual procedures include:

1.Introduction by the moderator

The moderator / Scrum master introduces the retrospective with the help of a review. The retrospective should always include the statement that this retrospective is not about uncovering the mistakes of individuals.  Rather, everyone assumes that everyone has done their best, but that problems may still have arisen in the process or at interfaces that need to be improved, without the intention of finding someone to blame.

2.Short review

The Scrum Master now gives a brief review of what has happened, reminds once again of the starting point and points out the changes that have been made so far. The aim is to ensure that all participants are on the same level. A visualization platform, which is best prepared digitally, is suitable so that the participants can follow this.

3.Retrospective questions

Now the actual core of the retrospective begins: asking questions and using methods to analyze past problems and find new approaches for improvement. This usually takes the longest and is the main part of a retrospective.

4.Sorting the options

Now the options are sorted:  The result of a retrospective is usually a colorful mix and offers many different new solutions.   A further step is required to filter out the best paths from these options and determine a direction. This step is often postponed to a second meeting so that the participants' attention span is not overstretched. Key points are filtered out and considered separately.

5.Conclusion of the retrospective

A retrospective should always end with a clear conclusion. The scrum master summarizes the results once again. Ideally, at the end of the retrospective, everyone knows exactly what his or her changed behavior should look like.


What should the aim of retrospective questions be?

Retrospective questions should basically pursue two goals. Firstly, they should find the cause of problems and trace them back to their actual origin. Secondly, they should open up new solutions and find creative ways of dealing with difficult processes.

What are the best retrospective questions?

A retrospective can only be as functional as the questions used. This is why there are retrospective example sentences for the questions. If the questions are chosen incorrectly, are not formulated appropriately for the occasion or are incomprehensible, the objectives of the retrospective cannot usually be achieved. Therefore, there are some tried and tested methods for the questions that a Scrum master can use.

It is important not just to focus on what did not go well. It is just as important to emphasize the things that went well - remembering this also highlights the methods from which the team obviously benefits. After all, positive thoughts influence the mind and, in turn, the course of the meeting.

Therefore, a retrospective in the question section is best started with positive questions:

  1.  What went so perfectly that we shouldn't or don't need to change anything?
  2.   What does this mean for our team's strengths?
  3.    How can we best maintain this well-running process?

Only after this "positive phase" should it move on to the critical part. A "transition" should actually take place here, which consists of initially retaining what has been learned.

  1.     What have we learned from what went well?
  2.     What can we take from it for the future?

With the last question in particular, the team starts the critical part of the questions with a positive attitude.

It begins with a general section:

  1.     What went wrong?
  2.    Which processes stalled quickly?
  3.     Were there any communication issues?

After this part, a basic analysis has been completed, which now leads on to the next part. On the basis of the first analysis, further questions can be asked, which are initially also of a fundamental nature. These include the triple formula: "Keep, stop, start":

  1.   Which processes should we keep in the team?
  2.   Which processes should we stop because they are not working well?
  3.   With which new processes should we start?

More questions are needed to answer the last question, because this is where the creative phase of the retrospective begins, in which new ideas are developed and new methods are explored.

Various methods of creative work are suitable for achieving good results in this phase. For example, you can work with various "images". Such processes should be accompanied by software that is specially designed to structure creative processes.


Which methods are suitable for clarifying retrospective questions?

Various methods have been developed to support the last part of the retrospective in particular. Visual approaches can help to make it easier to understand what has been experienced and to put it into words or to break it down into sub-areas. For example, the following methods are suitable for supporting the retrospective question:

1. The car or airplane

If a company is producing vehicles, dependent on the topic these can be aircrafts, cards, horses or even dragons. The most important thing is that it is a moving object that at least in our imagination  can also transport a person. Now the employees are asked to "hang" notes on this vehicle or write something on a drawn vehicle. At the top are the things that the employees have experienced as motivating and "moving forward". At the back are the things that, in their opinion, slowed down the vehicle or mount. Neutral statements are placed in the middle. Various options can be used to display the object and attach the  often only virtual  "notes". It always makes sense to choose a provider that offers the option of storing everything in a cloud that can be accessed from anywhere.

During the "road trip", everyone imagines they are on a journey. Now they check their luggage: What is unnecessary ballast and can be discarded? What obstacles need to be avoided or removed from the road? And what is missing from the luggage so that the journey can continue?

3. Role playing or colors

Role-playing always offers the advantage that the speaker does not act as themselves and can therefore distance themselves from what is being said, but can still express it. The purpose of role-playing or the use of colors is to give the individual aspects their own space. In this principle, the "roles" or "colors" are what the front, middle and back were in the car or plane. For example, everyone takes on the role of a complainer. This is either symbolized by a color or by an accessory. If the red cloth is on the table, everyone can grumble. Or the person currently wearing the hat can now complain about everything that didn't go well. With the yellow cloth only neutral things may be mentioned, with the green cloth only positive things.

If the results and processes are recorded digitally, software that takes data protection seriously and offers appropriate security should be used.


Retrospective questions - FAQ

What are retrospective questions?

Retrospective questions are questions that are asked as part of a review. These questions are used to identify and discuss problems and thus optimize processes.

What should be included in a retrospective?

In addition to the questions, a retrospective also includes summaries of what has happened so far and a clear conclusion with an outlook for the future.

How do I prepare a retrospective?

A retrospective should be prepared by looking at the process flow since the last retrospective and analyzing the individual areas in advance. In addition, the methods should be prepared, depending on which ones seem appropriate for the team and the situation.

What will be discussed in a retrospective?

In a retrospective, the problems of process flows and communication flows are discussed and, if necessary, solutions and new approaches are found.

What are retrospective methods?

Retrospective methods are methods that clarify and symbolize the questions of the retrospective and make it easier to answer them.

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