Who do you invite to the sprint retrospective, and why?
Welcome to part 20 of our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
Purpose of the sprint retrospective.
The sprint retrospective is an opportunity for the scrum team to come together and evaluate their performance, explore opportunities to improve, and to identify what needs to be done moving forward to achieve their goals and objectives.
The team will explore:
- How they work together.
- How effective their processes are.
- How healthy their relationships are, within and outside of the team environment.
- How effective their systems are.
- How effective their tools are, and whether they are still fit for purpose.
And so forth.
As a scrum master, you work hard to create a psychologically safe environment for the sprint retrospective that allows each person to speak their mind, voice their opinion, and/or raise anything that is of concern to them.
The focus of the sprint retrospective is to identify opportunities to improve and so people need to be able to speak freely, without fear of punishment or losing their job, if the team are going to prove successful in overcoming challenges or removing impediments.
Who do you invite to the sprint retrospective?
Firstly, you need to invite the scrum team.
That means you are inviting the developers, the product owner, and the scrum master. Those are the essential people in a sprint retrospective, and many would argue, the only people who should participate in a sprint retrospective.
These are the people who actively work at the coalface of product development, innovation, and discovery. They are the people who do the work and are best positioned to contribute insights, information, and knowledge.
As the people who are collectively responsible for product development and value creation for customers, they are also the people with the deepest vested interest in solving problems and identifying great opportunities to explore.
If someone on the team isn’t present, you miss valuable insights into what is happening, what isn’t working, and what could the team consider as a possible solution.
Sure, the team are going to come up with great ideas, but you will have more ideas, richer insight, and better solutions to implement if you have everyone from the team environment present.
The team may also decide to invite a manager or leader into the sprint retrospective if they feel that doing so will help resolve an impediment, open a door to new opportunities, or provide them with insight that can inform their decision-making.
It isn’t common for the team to do so, but in specific circumstances or at specific times of the year, it may be valuable to do so, and you should work with the team to identify who could make a powerful contribution, and when that person should be invited to the sprint retrospective.
Who do you exclude from a sprint retrospective?
Anyone who isn’t going to contribute value to the team.
The sprint review is a great event for customers, product stakeholders, etc. to review what has been created, how effective that solution is, and what the team should focus on next.
It is also a great event to have the team address problem areas, address specific questions, and any kind of engagement with the team around the product, feature, or service. So, scrum does provide an opportunity for that level of engagement with customers, leaders, and product stakeholders.
The sprint retrospective isn’t the forum for that and so it is very rare for a scrum team invite customers, product stakeholders, or senior leaders into a sprint retrospective.
It isn’t necessarily that the scrum team are excluding anyone from the sprint retrospective, it is simply a matter of ensuring that the most valuable people, in the context of helping the team improve, are present in the retrospective.
In my experience, if you invite non-essential people into the sprint retrospective, the team tends to clam up. If the team feel that speaking openly or honestly could threaten their career or prospects for promotion, they simply won’t contribute and that’s what we are trying to avoid.
So, that’s who I would exclude from sprint retrospective invitations in general, but if the team wanted to invite a specific customer, product stakeholder, manager, etc. to the event, I would certainly encourage that person to attend and contribute.
I would just take time to educate that invitee on the purpose of a sprint retrospective and walk them through some of the ground rules, like open and honest conversation, and the respectful way in which we address conflict or competing ideas and concepts.
Do that, and you should be good.
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