Why are Scrum Retrospectives a waste of time? Second Part

Asad Safari
4 min readJan 11


In the first part of this story, I discussed the problem of scrum teams getting stuck in a cycle of random problem-fixing, which can lead to stagnation and a lack of true agility. In this Part Two, I’ll show you how to transform your sprint retrospectives with Toyota Kata, so your team can experience continuous improvement.

This is a big misunderstanding that we are pretending each sprint is a totally fresh start. While we work in short cycles/sprints, but product development is a continuous effort like a marathon. A new sprint is not a fresh start, Rather, this is a continuation of past actions, and we cannot ignore what happened. Sprint retrospectives should reflect that, too; it is a continuous improvement toward a direction and not finding a new random direction each time. Just like developing a product without a vision, you would add random features to the product in each sprint…

Just like developing a product without a vision, you would add a set of random features to the product in each sprint
Develop a product without a vision.

Sprint Retrospectives are a chance for continuous improvement toward a direction and not aimless wandering. If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.

Toyota Kata provides a structured approach to transform your retrospectives. The steps are:

  1. Consider the overarching Direction or challenge.
  2. Grasp the current condition.
  3. Define the next target condition based on reality and constraints.
  4. Move toward the Target condition iteratively via experiments, which uncover the obstacles that need to be worked on. Or in other language obstacles are our path to our desired Direction.

The secret sauce of Toyota Kata is creating focus: The next target condition provides the team guidance and direction. During each sprint retrospective, instead of searching for random problems, the team should start with “What is the challenge/direction?” and “What is the next target condition?”

Let’s look at the below image; I called this board the improvement board, and I use it in my sprint retrospectives sessions:

improvement board
Improvement board

I recommend using an “improvement board” to facilitate these discussions. You should make sure to:

1- Does the team understand the challenge they are striving for?

The challenge or Direction should be clear. The next question you can ask is, “How will you know when you have achieved the challenge?”

2- What is the Actual Condition?

A description of the Actual conditions should be based on facts and data, not just gut feelings. As a Scrum master or Agile coach, you can bring data with you, for example, from your issue tracker, Or you can ask team members to gather some data and facts from the production environment…

Or there is another excellent practice that you can use: Value Stream Mapping. Value-stream mapping aims to identify and remove or reduce “waste” in value streams. Again, it’s a great practice to grasp the current condition.

You can use the DORA metrics or Evidence base management framework to find some meaningful data and key value areas.

3- What is the Next Target Condition?

In this step, as a team, you want to describe where you want to be next on the way to your challenge. Make sure the target condition should be measurable in some way and has a specified achieved-by date between two weeks to three months out.

4- What obstacles do you think are preventing us from reaching the target condition?

You can use different facilitating techniques in this step to gather as many obstacles as possible in your parking lot. Try to prevent generalizations, such as anything starting with “Lack”, which sounds like a general thing. For example: “Lack of knowledge sharing culture”, Ask team members to write concrete obstacles. You can ask this question: “Can you show it to me?”, “Yeah, for example, last week, I asked a question in our slack group, and nobody answered me”.

5- What is the Next step we want to be committed to in the next sprint?

In this step, we want to facilitate the team to devise concrete actions or experiments for the next sprint. They should be actionable in one sprint time-box. You can define an action as gathering data or running an experiment. A good experiment will be actionable in the near term. This means that the experiment is relatively easy to carry out ( Do something different on your normal day) and can be conducted within the next week or so.

Let’s see a real-world example:

For example, I once worked with a team using the improvement board. Instead of finding random problems, we changed the focus to the obstacles on our way to the next target condition and the smallest actions or experiments we could do in the next two weeks.

If you have found this story valuable for you, please let me know; In the next story, I’ll go into more detail on how to set the right Direction and choose the right metrics for your retrospectives.

So stay tuned!