The question in short: how should we handle a scrum retrospective when the capacity of the team has been very low?


We have a team of 6 people: 1 PO, 4 developers (of whom 1 part-time on Monday and Friday) and 1 developer/SM (me). We have 1-week sprint starting on Monday and ending on Friday 9am, with the retrospective also being on Friday.

Due to varying summer holidays, tomorrow our sprint retrospective would be with one developer who worked Tuesday through Friday, the part-time developer (who did not work this Monday) and myself, having worked the full week.

I'm in favor of not skipping the retrospective, because I find inspection and adapting important. However, I fear we won't get much value from it, because only half the team will be there and only two of them have actually worked in the sprint.

Would it be wise to still hold a retrospective for this sprint? If so, what kind of activities would be useful for this kind of low-capacity retrospective? If not, should we skip it altogether or try to move it to another moment?

  • All are reasonable options. I might also consider treating the holiday week as a special low-capacity Sprint or even just an "off week" to give team members a chance to catch up on individual tech debt. What's the maturity level for this team?
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Jun 14, 2018 at 22:11
  • We're still a young team; the result of a merge of a stable and high-performing team and a struggling team with high-priority epics. Unfortunately, with the priorities the way they are, an "off week" is not currently possible.
    – Lex
    Jun 15, 2018 at 6:53

4 Answers 4


Ask the people participating in the retro if it is required. (Or even better, ask if they've thought about anything for the retro).

  • Thanks. I did ask the team and we decided to let it go through. We took a simple activity, as @BenLinders suggested.
    – Lex
    Jun 15, 2018 at 11:14
  • Cool! How did it go?
    – BenLinders
    Jun 15, 2018 at 17:53

Given that the holiday season will bring special challenges for the team (like an incomplete team as you are dealing with right now) it might be good to make that the topic of the next couple of retrospectives.

Regarding the exercise to use, try to keep it simple. A start, stop, continue (or my variant start, spice up, stop) might be a suitable one. Or a constellation, where you could bring in people who are absent with something with their picture attached.

At the end of the retrospective meeting, do a sanity check on the actions and ask the participant how they feel about the meeting. Use their feedback to adjust the format and topic.

Your thoughts on this?

  • Thank you for your suggestion. We went for a short activity (retromat.org/en/?id=73), which generated some interesting insights.
    – Lex
    Jun 15, 2018 at 11:16
  • Great, happy to see that my suggestion to use a simple exercise worked for you.
    – BenLinders
    Jun 15, 2018 at 21:39

Obviously, it is best to have the whole Scrum Team present at every Retro. I would encourage always hold the Retro with as many people who are available. I joke I'm playing 'Scrum Team bingo' where I score a point for each unique combination of Scrum Team members I've had in a Retro. But seriously, each combination of Scrum Team members creates a unique dynamic and almost always reveals new insights. Something to avoid is 'talking behind someone's back', of course; though if this did happen it would be a good opportunity to discuss fear of conflict or avoidance of accountability (two of the The Five Dysfunctions of a Team).


Skipping the retro would be an anti-pattern. When capacity is limited due to "OOO" it's a good time to assess the team's cross-functionality limits. What skills gaps do we have? What could we do about that in the future? Good stuff to uncover!

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