Reverse Retrospective — Aligning Scrum Team and Scrum Master

By Stefan Wolpers

Reverse Retrospective — Aligning Scrum Team and Scrum Master

TL;DR: The Reverse Retrospective

Are you—as scrum master or agile coach—experiencing more communication kerfuffles with “your” team? Is its speed of improvement stalling? Are you under the impression that the team is slipping back into old habits and patterns? Maybe, it is time to run a reverse retrospective where your share your observations with the team.

Learn how to run a reverse retrospective to realign with your scrum team.

Reverse Retrospective: Framing the Problem—Groundhog Day

As a scrum master or agile coach, you may ask yourself sometimes why it takes your team so long to change direction even with issues under control of the team. This might be a simple technique such as ‘put the Jira task number in red into the upper right corner of its index card, so we have a chance to read it from a distance.’ Or it could be the understanding of fundamental agile practices. For example, that insufficient product backlog refinements will likely cause spill-overs at the end of a sprint, thus endangering meeting the sprint goal.

Such moments of falling behind or not living up to the potential are particularly unfortunate when they repeat themselves. Nothing is more frustrating than a team managing to pin down problems during retrospectives and deciding to take action only to not deliver on those action items. Or, initially changing the situation for the better just to fall back into old patterns after a while slowly. It is groundhog day, the agile edition.

Self-Organizing Scrum Teams

One of the problems from a coaching perspective is that self-organizing teams do not form when the scrum master is instructing team members regularly what to do and how to do things, probably even enforcing those “suggestions” at a later stage.

Self-organization means that the team takes care of its affairs as autonomy without accountability equals anarchy. (It is what Patty McCord—formerly Netflix—refers to as treating everyone “like fully formed adults.”)

One way out of this dilemma might be a retrospective exercise that aims at realigning the scrum team with the scrum master or agile coach—the reverse retrospective.

How to Run a Reverse Retrospective

A reverse retrospective combines several techniques from the scrum master toolbox:

  • The scrum master creates stickies with issues
  • The circles of influence-model by Diana Larsen allows the clustering of issues by team authority
  • There is a dot-voting step to identify issues where the scrum team and the scrum master align and—more importantly—do not align
  • There is a lean coffee-style discussion based on the dot voting results.

The desired outcome of the reverse retrospective is to confirm that team and coach have the same perspective on the team situation. If the retrospective reveals, that is not the case the ensuing discussion shall overcome these differences and realign the scrum team with the scrum master.

Preparing the Reverse Retrospective as the Scrum Master

The most important part of preparing the reverse retrospective as the scrum master is the identification of the issues you want to …read more

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