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Retrospectives -- or Retros -- are one of the regular weekly meetings held by agile product teams. The purpose of a Retrospective is to provide a dedicated time, usually at the end of the week, to celebrate the past week’s successes, discuss points of confusion and reflect on challenges. Key to an effective Retro is the freedom everyone on the team should feel to be completely open an honest. Retrospectives allow time for team members to more deeply reflect on their experiences that week. These discussions should result in action items that the team can implement in the name of of continuously improving work and collaboration.

Running retrospective meetings

Each Retro meeting should have a facilitator who is responsible for guiding the discussion and recording action items. This isn't exclusively the Product Manager's job. In fact, as a best practice, the facilitator role should rotate among team members each week.

The agenda

An effective agenda for a successful one-hour Retrospective meeting looks something like this:

  1. Each team member starts by spending about 10 minutes writing down their experiences from the week onto a Retrospective board. Usually these boards are displayed in a place where everyone can see them at the same time. More on this below. The written items fall into one of three categories, organized into columns. These columns include: What Went Well, What Was Neither Good nor Bad and What Didn't Go So Well. Some teams call the categories Happy, Meh, Sad.
  2. Team members may 'upvote' one another's items -- for example, by placing a dot or a '+' sign next to the item -- if they are resonant. These votes can be helpful in prioritizing items for discussion.
  3. Once everyone is done writing, the facilitator chooses a topic, one at a time, to discuss. As a general practice, the facilitator asks the author of the item to elaborate if needed. Then the rest of the team is given a chance to weigh in on the topic.
  4. When applicable, the team should come up with action items to help drive improvement moving forward.

An example of an experience that might come up during retro is "I learned a lot during user testing sessions" in the What Went Well column. Not every topic will generate an action item. On the other hand, if an item like "Too many unnecessary meetings" comes up in the What Didn't Go So Well column, the team might need to examine this topic and come up with an action plan to address the issue.


Effective tools for in-person Retros include a large white board and dry erase markers. Team members can use the same process described above to write items down in one of the three columns. In this way, it's easy to see what everyone is writing down, and items can be marked with a dot or a '+' for up-voting. Once items are discussed, the facilitator can cross items off of the list. A forth column can be added to record action items.


Collaborative software can be used in conjunction with a conference call in the case of a remote Retro. Some favorite collaborative software products at the XC include Miro, Figma and Trello. Trello works particularly well for creating columns and adding items in the form of "cards." Using collaborative software, everyone can look at the same board at the same time, similar to the way the team would if everyone were in person.

Further reading

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