UX designer’s guide to effective retrospectives

Sean Dexter
6 min readJan 1, 2019

Retrospectives are meetings found in — but not limited to — the Scrum development framework where members of a product team reflect on past work and discuss ways to improve in the future. I’ve seen designers occasionally write retrospectives off as not being particularly relevant or interesting to them — sometimes to the point where they don’t even attend, but I’d argue that if you’re not very engaged (or not having them at all) you’re probably making a mistake.

A good retrospective allows a team to:

  • Discuss and address things that aren’t working as well as they could be
  • Discuss and improve things that are working well to see how they can be better
  • See the broader picture instead of getting stuck in an overly reactive or narrow mindset
  • Have happier, more empowered team members with a greater sense of control over their work and process

Getting all these things to actually happen isn’t always straightforward though. Retrospectives are cut or consolidated surprisingly often when the value doesn’t quite manifest. In fact, if you close your eyes you can probably imagine that one engineer complaining about yet another meeting interrupting precious working time. The way to overcome this resistance is to show the value of retrospectives by running them effectively. A retrospective done well can be transformative, and designers are uniquely positioned to contribute. All it takes is understanding what’s needed to make a retrospective great:

A retrospective is not a postmortem!

If you only schedule retrospectives after a project ends or when something goes terribly wrong you’re sort of missing the point. Agile is about continuous improvement along the way. Put another way, there’s a reason we get annual physicals instead of only waiting for our own autopsies.

Make sure people actually feel comfortable contributing.

This is where experience with design thinking practices can really make a difference. You want to create an atmosphere where it is OK to share ideas and where all team members feel like their input is heard. Sound familiar? It should. A retrospective is…

Sean Dexter

Sr Product Designer @ Meta. Prev: HubSpot & Cigna. I write about UX, agile, & product. Not speaking for any employer/s. linkedin.com/in/seandexter1/