30. Sep 2021Business

Scrum retrospective: anti-pattern or how not to do it

In the previous article, we looked at what Scrum Retrospective is and tips on how to run it. Today we will look at the most common mistakes, situations where meetings can go awry and an otherwise pleasant "sitting" becomes a walk-through fire.

Veronika MartiškováProject Manager

Unstructured retrospective

Retrospective without structure means a meeting without clearly defined rules, techniques or processes and thus without a goal. It looks like a "somehow-somehow" meeting. We are talking about the project, but the discussion is going nowhere. The team does not know what is expected of them, what they have to focus on and therefore people cannot react.


Get ready for a retrospective. As simple as that ... (you can read the previous article on this topic - Scrum retrospective, what is it). However, the problem can occur especially with remote teams, where you can't get people into one room and therefore you may feel like you can't handle the meeting properly. This is where the right online tool can work wonders. Thanks to it, you know how to maintain the structure of the retrospective and the focus of people from the beginning to the end. You can find more about online tools in our next article.

As if you probably wouldn't set out on a journey without a map, resp. without GPS, you shouldn't do a retrospective without a plan. But beware! Retrospective should not be a rigid meeting that does not allow free interaction. The point, however, is that each part of the retrospective should have its own structure, which is guided by the facilitator (only for general understanding - yes, by you - as a Projector or Scrum Master).

Retrospective a la "complaining"

As we mentioned, the retrospective is supposed to be about open communication and what did not go well AKA "fackups". However, it can also turn into a waterfall of negative emotions and complaints, which come especially in time-consuming, stressful projects, where emotions are whipped to heights and people need to ventilate. This can result in a situation where a person in negative mood pulls the whole group with him and, thanks to the domino effect, blames the other, without an often constructive conclusion. The result can be a not very positive attitude of the team to this meeting, through an unpleasant experience.


The paradox in this situation is that complainng is what generates the most ideas, but it needs to be guided. By forbidding people from complaining or telling them "think positive", you can't do much. But you can start by giving the team the feeling that their thoughts and opinions are accepted and you will deal with them. This means that you ask all members of the meeting for an opinion on a specific event and clearly communicate the expectations you have towards expressing them. If the feeling of guilt relates to external factors, direct the team's communication towards what can be influenced and what we can only accept. Sometimes it helps to realize that certain things cannot be changed, but our attitude towards them can be changed, and it is this approach that can calm the team.

"Didn't we say that ...?" retrospective

You already have a sprint or retrospective already done and you keep coming back to the same questions that came up at the beginning? Did you get a feedback that you talked about this problem last time and you are starting to feel that the team is losing motivation and not moving anywhere? This may be due to the team having too many action items set, or the action items not clear and the team either unable to fulfill them or simply not understanding them.


Take a look at data from past retrospectives and you'll probably see a pattern. Looking at things from a distance and looking away can help you realize where the problem is. If there is a problem with the number of action items, simply reduce them. You don't need to have 5, maybe 1-2 are enough, but ones that we can meet as a team. Ask the team members if the action items are clear to them, or ask one of the members to explain in their own words what it is about, what will serve as a cross-check, that they really understand it.

"Because Scrum Preaches" a retrospective

In this case, the team has a retrospective only because it is written in the Scrum manual. Nobody concentrates and does other things. If you lead a remote team, it can really be a problem. This is often caused by a combination of all the previous events we mentioned above. If there is no change in the team and the retrospective does not lead to the desired result, it is time to think about yourself. Much like Michael Jackson says in the song Man in the mirror. At this point, you stop doing retrospective and that is wrong.


Dear reader, you probably already know that you signed up to the devil when you went to this business or position. And believe me, more than one designer or Scrum master got into this state of hopelessness and spleen, but it is necessary to endure. You still have the opportunity to try to do a retrospective differently. It is not carved into any scrum stone that you have to stand in front of a wide board and draw, or that you have to run with a mouse around the screen of some online tool. If the situation allows you to do a retrospective outside the office. If part of the people are remote and part in the office, do a meeting where half the people will be buried in one room and the other half can be remote. If you only have meetings online, try to stand up - even such a small change can bring you a different charge of speech. Bring a bit of energy into it. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Experiment!

If you are still leaning over the abyss of hopelessness, don't be despair, we are here for you and in the next article we will advise you on new forms of retrospective that you can use. And besides, don't forget that Bad decision makes good stories, so if you've messed up something so far, know that it will also be used in today's world, for example to write a very interesting article 🙂

Veronika MartiškováProject Manager