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How to Run a Retrospective without a Scrum Master?

Run a retro without a Scrum Master

You want to run Sprint Retrospectives with your team… but you don’t have a Scrum Master to help you facilitate it?

Or maybe your Scrum Master cannot attend tomorrow’s retrospective - therefore YOU will be the one facilitating the event?

It's okay, you've come to the right place. Thanks to this article, you can keep your next team retrospective on schedule!

Yes, you can change the person who facilitates the retrospective. The Scrum Guide even recommends it.

In this article, I'll walk you through the steps needed to make your next retro a success. And my main focus will be to keep them super simple:

  1. Preparing the retrospective

  2. Animating the retrospective

  3. Closing the retrospective

Preparing the retrospective

Find the focus of the retrospective

A successful retrospective is a well-prepared retrospective. Even at this step, you want to help your team focus on the right thing.

You can find this focus by reflecting on the important things that happened in the last Sprint(s). If nothing obvious comes to your mind, it’s easy, ask your team! You can use a tool like Team Radars to quickly survey your team on different topics and find out their main pain points.

If you have found the focus by yourself, make sure to take some time to validate it with the team before the retrospective.

And if you do not have enough time to find a focus, it’s totally fine to run a generic retrospective.

Finding the best retrospective activity

You can find tons of retrospective formats and templates online, which may be challenging to navigate. 

As I said in the introduction, my goal is to keep everything simple. So, for this Sprint Retrospective, I propose a classic approach: 

  1. We start with an Icebreaker

  2. We recall the focus and the last action plan

  3. The team writes down their ideas

  4. The team presents and consolidates its ideas

  5. The team votes for the most important ideas

  6. The team comes up with an action plan

  7. We close the retro with a ROTI

Now, let’s move on to the template. This may be the first time you are going to host a retrospective, so the idea is to choose a model that is very easy to understand.

The purpose of the retrospective model is to provide support for reflection, inspire the team, and sort out their ideas.

Let’s pick one of the most-used Sprint retrospective templates: The Start, Stop, Continue.

🟢 Things the team should start.

This column is used to talk about new ideas, things to try, or technologies to experiment with.

🔴 Things the team should stop

This column is used to highlight the problems encountered during the last Sprint. You could find practices or processes that have hindered the team in its delivery of value.

🤙 Things the team needs to keep doing

This column is a good opportunity to give recognition to colleagues. You could find the good moves, the good ideas or wins.

To learn more about this model, check out our Start Stop Continue template page.

If you decide to do your retrospective in a meeting room or with an online whiteboard like Miro, you will need to build each stage of the event.

In addition to requiring additional preparation time, it will also require graphic facilitation skills which could create several problems during your retrospective.

The role of a retrospective facilitator is above all to focus on the people on the team. I recommend that you use an online retrospective tool. In addition to giving you best practices, it will take care of all the logistics for you.

Schedule the meeting and invite the team

The preparations are complete, all you have to do is invite the people who will attend the retrospective.

According to the Scrum Guide, the Sprint Retrospective is a Scrum Team-only event. Namely, the developers, the Scrum Master (if possible 😄), and the Product Owner.

This means that people outside the team such as stakeholders, managers, or heads of departments should not be invited to retrospectives. Unless the team needs it.

If a person outside the team asks you to attend, I advise you to open a discussion between this person and the team, in order to decide if their presence is relevant.

Animation of the retrospective

Break the ice

Duration: about 3 minutes per person

Let's go! Whether your retrospective is online or face-to-face, it is important to put the team in a relaxed atmosphere.

This Icebreaker is called the Question Game, and it’s a creation of the Neatro team!

Ask each member of your team a random question. Let that person answer and start a quick chat between this person and the team.

Some questions you can use:

  • If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

  • What do you value most when it comes to teamwork?

  • Where would you build your dream home?

  • If you were to have one extra day off a week, what would you do with it?

  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard?

  • What is something that you have learned about yourself in the past 6 months?

  • Who makes you laugh the most and why?

For more examples, check out our top 100 Icebreaker questions.

Once everyone on the team (including you!) has passed, it's time to get to the real thing, the retrospective.

Collect ideas

Duration: 10 minutes

If your retrospective has a specific focus, now is the time to recall it. Then schedule a 10-minute timer to give your team time to write down their ideas. These ideas can be written on post-its or in an online retrospective tool.

For this part, team members mustn't influence each other. Instead, have each person jot down their ideas without being able to see other people's ideas.

Sort ideas

Duration: about 5 minutes per person

Time's up! The long-awaited moment has arrived. Everyone can reveal their comments.

For this step, make sure each person has time to go over their different ideas and quickly present them to the team.

This is also a good time to group similar ideas together. If you're using an online retrospective tool, try to associate a theme with each idea. Over time, you will be able to highlight the most recurring themes in your retrospectives.

Prioritize ideas

Duration: 5 minutes

The comments have been sorted and grouped, so we can move on to prioritization. A simple and effective technique to prioritize ideas is dot-voting.

Give the same number of votes to all the members of your team, give them (or not) the right to vote several times on the same idea, and then use a timer to timebox the reflection.

The number of votes, as well as the duration of the timer, will depend on the number of ideas. But generally, it varies between 2 and 5.

As with the idea writing phase, have your team members vote without seeing what others are doing so they don't influence each other.

Set up an action plan

Duration: 30 minutes

The moment that will make this retrospective valuable has finally arrived: the action plan.

Now that your team is aware of the most important ideas, give them the remaining time of the retrospective to figure out how they will take action.

Many ideas can be considered important. I recommend that you determine a minimum number of votes with your team to take action on an idea.

For example, if four ideas have three votes or more, and the other six ideas have two votes or less, it would be a good idea to focus on the top four.

If you're short on time, you can also quickly discuss with your team which ones they consider essential and focus on those.

For each idea or each problem, discuss as a team what you could do.

Once the team agrees on an initiative, add it to the action plan.

I advise you to follow a framework such as SMART objectives to develop your initiatives. This will ensure that they are achievable and that your action plans really have an impact.

Closing the retrospective

Rate the retrospective

The retro is now over, would you like to know what the team thought of it? How about getting feedback on your facilitation skills?

If so, ROTI is the perfect tool for that.

ROTI stands for “Return On Time Invested”. Each member of the team will rate the retro with a score ranging from 1 to 5 and will have the opportunity to leave a comment.

This can be done by show of hands, via post-its on a whiteboard, in the chat of a video conferencing tool, or directly in an online retrospective tool like Neatro.

Neatro allows team members to vote anonymously, which will help them feel psychologically safe to really say what they think about this retro.

Share the retrospective report

The action plan must be easily accessible at all times by the entire team. It is a real commitment of the team, each person assigned to an element of the action plan should be responsible for it.

Exporting this action plan to your favorite project management tool is a good way to ensure it is not forgotten.

There you go! With or without Scrum Master, you now have all the cards in hand to organize a retrospective and make it a success.

I wish you a great retro!

Discover Neatro's retrospective templates