Improving your Sprint Retrospective with Acceptance Criteria

Credit: Pixabay
Image Credit: Pixabay

Let’s treat Scrum Events like Product Backlog Items. A good PBI has a clear Outcome, Who it is for, and Acceptance Criteria. 


Outcome: To continuously improve the ability to deliver sustainable value.  

Who is it for?: The Scrum Team and only the Scrum Team. 

Acceptance Criteria:

  • Did we hold our retrospective? 
  • Did everyone have the opportunity to share their perspective? 
  • Did we pick something to improve? 
  • Did we make a plan for how we would make that improvement?

Outcome:  The purpose of Scrum is to “generate value.” “The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.” – The Scrum Guide. 

Together, these two concepts lead us to the term “sustainable value.” 

To be effective and have good quality is to be a sustainable team. If the Product Owner has aligned the team around value, then that team delivers sustainable value. The Sprint Review focuses on the question, “Did we deliver value?” The Sprint Retrospective asks, “Are we delivering our work sustainably?” 

Who is it for?: “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” – The Scrum Guide. 

It’s not just the work that the Scrum Team should be allowed to self-organize. The Scrum Team should also be allowed to decide how to deliver the work.  

You don’t hire Picasso then give him a Paint By Numbers kit. 

The Scrum Team are the only people who should be in the room when answering the questions, “How can we be more effective?” and “How can we improve our quality?”

Acceptance Criteria: Did we hold our retrospective? 

The Sprint Retrospective is the most skipped of the Scrum Events. The reasons for skipping are legion, though the one I hear most often is “We don’t have time” or some variation of this. 

Whenever I hear this excuse, I immediately think of this cartoon. When we say we don’t have time to improve, what we’re really saying is we don’t want to improve. 

The next most common reason I hear is, “We don’t have any problems; we’re good enough.” The Sprint Retrospective isn’t about reaching a specific goal. It’s not about being good enough. It’s about always improving. In January of 2024, the Kansas City Chiefs won their second consecutive Superbowl. They didn’t say, “We’re good enough; we can stop now.” No, in fact, interviews with players and staff were often about how they would work to improve so they could win a 3rd consecutive time. 

Acceptance Criteria: Did everyone have the opportunity to share their perspective?

Project Aristotle, the Google internal research project on what makes teams effective, found that teams where everyone had the opportunity to speak equally throughout the day were more effective. 

The Sprint Retrospectives is a critical time to ensure everyone in the team feels safe to share their perspective and to generate as much data related to the context question as possible. 

Acceptance Criteria: Did we pick something to improve? 

It is easy to say, “All this is outside our control.” And yes, there are often issues outside the teams control to change directly. However, I’ve never run into a team that didn’t have opportunities entirely in their control to make improvements. Saying, “We’re good, we can’t improve,” would be like the World Cup, Superbowl, World Series champs saying, “We’re the best in the world, we don’t have to practice anymore.” 

Acceptance Criteria: Did we make a plan for how we would make that improvement?

One of the reasons teams stop doing retrospectives is, “Nothing ever changes.”  

Nothing is going to change if you don’t make a plan. Once you have identified something to improve, now you need to create a plan for how you are going to improve. 

This has been a 🦍 Gorilla Coach 🦍 Scrumdementals moment. Have a nice day.

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