Agile Retrospectives: Making good teams great (Book Review)


  • The aim of the book is to introduce a structure for retrospectives and to walk the reader through planning, designing and leading a retrospective, with activities and guidance on how to use them
  • The book appears to be aimed at people who want to use retrospectives in their organizations, whether these organisations are currently using Agile techniques or not.

What’s inside

  • This book sets out a simple framework for conducting retrospectives built around 5 stages (Set the scene; Gather data; Generate insights; Decide what to do; Close), and provides a wide range of example activities for each of these stages, including some that measure the feelings of the team.
  • It can be used as a “cook book” to put together a retrospective (I have used it successfully for this), or as inspiration to devise your own activities
  • The tone is friendly and conversational, and the book is easy to read.
  • Some tips are given on converting the techniques presented to make them suitable for retrospectives on a project phase or an entire project rather than just a single Agile delivery iteration.

Some of my favourite take-aways

Amongst the ideas presented, I found the following favourites:

  • Get the team to draw up their own working agreement for the expected behaviour during the retrospective; make them all responsible for monitoring compliance with this and for speaking up in case of breaches.
  • Debrief after each activity, and at the end of the retrospective (on the retrospective itself)
  • Change the format of each retrospective so that the team members don’t become jaded
  • Revisit some of the team diagnostic activities from time to time to see whether / how the team’s feelings have changed.
  • Focus on things the team can actually do something about; don’t let a retrospective turn into a group whingeing session.

The Verdict

  • I think this an excellent book, well-written, and with plenty of insights
  • Despite the title, I found there was nothing whatsoever about the contents that would constrain their application to Agile projects; indeed I have used the advice in the book to carry out multiple retrospectives on a considerably un-Agile construction programme
  • At the purchase price of £15 this represents excellent value for money and I strongly recommend it for anyone wanting to brush up on their skills in running project retrospectives.
Full title:Agile Retrospectives: Making good teams great
Author:Esther Derby & Diana Larsen
Publisher:Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2006

Are you coming to the end of a project?

Do you want to make sure that your organisation learns from its delivery experience but you’re not sure how?

Pragmatic PMO can help.

Why not take a look at our “Learn lessons from your project” service? If that looks interesting, why not schedule a free 30-minute consultation to discuss how we can help you?

Author: Ken Burrell

Ken Burrell is a Programme and Portfolio Office (PMO) Professional, who through his company Pragmatic PMO makes targeted improvements to PMO practices to add value to Projects, Programmes and Portfolios. He provides senior management with the analysis they need to make decisions, and gives project and programme managers the support they need to deliver solutions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.