The Retrospective: An Essential Practice for Agile Teams

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd edition, Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization as well as several other books including the newest: Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver. See her blogs and more of her writing at

I’ve met too many teams that don’t perform retrospectives—the inspect-and-adapt part—of the agile approach. Sometimes, the people think the retro will take too long, or that they won’t learn enough fast enough.

The problem is that teams do the same thing over and over again. Nothing changes.

I often recommend the five-step approach in Derby and Larson’s Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, for any team, agile or otherwise.

  1. Set the stage
  2. Gather data
  3. Generate insights
  4. Decide what to do
  5. Wrap up the retrospective

Or, you might also know about the more traditional four questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go so well?
  3. What have we learned?
  4. What still puzzles us?

Since I suspect you know about those retrospective approaches, I’ll use a different structure here to show you how to reflect fast right after you do perform some form of activity.

This reflection approach is from the book The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace by Brian Stanfield. I often use this framework when I debrief student experiences (for instance, in a training class or when I facilitate a team’s interim retrospective).

The structure is called ORID, as in:

  • Obtain the data
  • Reflect on the data
  • Interpret the data and make meaning from the data
  • Decide …

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"Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room."

- Winston Churchill