In my opinion, for a successful scrum master, effective retrospectives are very important. Everytime I interact with a scrum master I often ask them how often they do retrospectives. This information helps me gauge functions efficiency.
In general, whenever teams are in pressure retrospectives are bumped off. The irony is that this session is most valuable when the pressure is on or when things are not running as expected. As such, the sprint retrospective should always remain a consistent event at the end of each sprint, irrespective of the tension/ pressure surrounding it.
I recommend doing retrospective in different styles like a sailboat, star, sad-mad-glad or Four L’s. My personal favorite out of these is Bubble Up.
It promotes immediate collaboration, helps everyone get to know one another in a non-contrived fashion and again, doesn’t put anyone on the spot.
This technique works best with an even number of team members however you can easily make it work with uneven numbers. Let’s assume that we have a team of 6.
Step 1 requires each person to individually document on their sheet of paper the three most urgent and important issues that they feel should be focused on in the upcoming sprint. Time-box this step, say 5mins.
Next, get the individuals to pair up with a buddy sitting next to them (here you will obviously have 3 pairs). Again, time-box, ask the pairs to decide, based on their combined individual lists, which three items should take priority overall.
The next step is to join two pairs together so that you now have two groups of four. Once again, time-box this step, although you may offer up a little extra time as you now have groups of four debating the merits of their lists to determine the top three.
With this approach, the most urgent and important issues ‘bubble’ up to the surface.
The penultimate step is to form a single group of eight to determine which three issues bubble right to ‘the top of the top’. By this stage we know what should be focused on next sprint.
Finally, the team can rinse and repeat the same ‘Bubbles’ activity above to identify and acknowledge the processes that the team wishes to explicitly keep moving into the next sprint.
After this its time for Scrum Master to act upon these chosen bubbles...