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The engineering team’s guide to documenting sprint retrospectives

Nate Martins
Marketing
Sprint retrospective - agile retrospective hero screenshot
Use this template to document all parts of your sprint retrospective.
5 min read

You’re probably very familiar with sprint retrospectives. On most Agile teams, they tend to consist of discussions about what happened during a sprint. However, there’s often a missing element that we’ve seen happen to many engineering teams — engineers don’t document, so things don’t get implemented.

When retrospectives are documented instead of just discussed, then the team has a focal point for the next sprint and can take those learnings forward. Documenting sprint retros is an essential part of your team’s growth.

Why is a documented sprint retrospective important?

A documented retrospective provides qualitative information that can help assess the health of the scrum team and its existing process — as well as surfacing areas of improvement for future sprints and projects. Were tasks specced accordingly? Were your scrum meetings effective? Asking these questions and keeping track of important metrics in a retrospective will help you identify a list of improvements you can apply to your process in the next sprint.

A page with writing on it.

Undocumented sprints also encourage keeping the status quo in future projects. That could be fine in the short term — but it stifles innovation and keeps teams from developing better processes and standards.

Documentation creates accountability, allowing you to easily assign duties to team members. Tasks might range from implementing a new QA process to better scoping the number of tasks in your next sprint.

By documenting retrospectives, you also encourage knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer across your team. Team members can share new learnings as they make progress, which lifts the tide for your entire team. Because work is reviewed often in agile teams, having a quick way to get feedback is vital, and sprint retrospectives are a great platform for collecting and reviewing feedback.

What to include in your sprint retrospective documentation

Now that you’ve determined you need a method of documentation, how do you build one and make it easily accessible? Consider using Notion which has features that allow you to create, store and transfer knowledge easily. Notion is ideal for engineers where you can create a template with questions for team members to answer at the end of every sprint and add it to your knowledge base so it can be viewed easily.

This keeps everyone updated and allows anyone who wasn’t part of the meeting to gather any missing context for their own work. And by using templates for documentation, you allow easy customization, which encourages teams to be flexible in planning. Take Branch for example — most engineers don’t like documentation, but the company’s fun system encouraged participation and improved productivity among the team.

The best note-taking templates help the writer focus on noting the most important information without going overboard. Some important elements to include in your retrospective documentation:

  1. Date and time these details will keep your database organized if you keep information in a central knowledge base. It also gives clarity on the timelines for action items.

  2. Attendees note who attended so it’s easy to point out who can clarify discussion points or who’s assigned to each task.

    A checklist on a clipboard.
  3. Questions there are three main questions teams should ask themselves during a sprint retrospective.

    • What went well during the sprint?

    • What didn’t go well?

    • What actions will we commit to in the next sprint?

  4. Action items sprint retrospective templates should also include action items — this allows teams to easily identify and tag who’s responsible for what, which helps reduce unnecessary back and forth like Codecademy’s PMs do in their shared knowledge base.

For template inspiration, Synctera does monthly retrospectives.

Try Synctera's monthly retrospective template — not necessarily for sprints, but as a great template example regardless.

6 tips to maximize sprint retrospectives

Along with templatizing your documentation, there are other ways to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your sprint retrospective meetings.

  1. Make sure to create a meeting agenda and take notes meeting agendas are great for keeping everyone on track during your retrospectives. And notes help to capture the important items of every meeting. Remember to assign someone to handle the agenda and notes, so you never forget.

  2. Adopt a specific technique for running your sprint retrospectives techniques are useful for the same reason that documentation is: they allow you to focus on key takeaways and identify issues uninterrupted. For example, Start Stop Continue retrospectives are the simplest format. They simply ask that teams identify activities that fit within these three sections.

    • Start what the team will begin doing in future sprints.

    • Stop look back to identify what didn’t work and should be removed from the process.

    • Continue — identify what worked in the previous cycle and needs to be included in the team’s core activities.

Here are some other techniques to consider for your next sprint retrospective.

3. Mix up standard retrospective questions with the new ones every once in a while. For example, you might ask team members areas they’d be interested in exploring in the future, or solicit critiques on processes to get team buy-in and improve moving forward.

4. Include space to recognize key contributors. Who brought the most useful ideas? Who took the notes? This is more about building team morale, but it’s a good way of encouraging contributions in future sprints.

An illustration of a fountain pen writing on a surface.

5. Change the order of questions. Also, make sure there’s no order in who answers retrospective questions so every time different team members can start the meeting. You can use the popcorn method which is where someone answers and question and then picks who answers next and so on.

6. Create space for sharing. Your template should include space for team members who might have questions on confusing elements from the sprint. This could help them unveil issues that affect their performance and improve their productivity during the next sprint. You should also allow teammates to share learning moments and document them to provide context for future viewers.

All these activities can be included seamlessly in your documentation and won’t take any more time than necessary.

Document your sprint retrospectives in Notion to encourage cross-functional collaboration

Cross-functional collaboration is vital as once an idea has been identified, all teams need easy access to information so they don’t miss a step in delivery.

For Match, keeping the information in one place is vital to achieving seamless collaboration across teams. “Centralizing the entire team’s workflow and processes in Notion has been pivotal for increasing transparency and making sure we’re all aligned,” says Rahim Makani, Match’s Director of Product.

With a standardized Notion template, your team can make the most of sprint retrospectives — get started documenting your meetings with this templates.

Use this one to get started: Agile retrospective

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