What is the Prime Directive?

By | August 22, 2016

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” ∼ The Prime Directive

Originating from Norman L. Kerth’s book, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, it is used as a foundation for Sprint Retrospectives. The Prime Directive is meant to instil a positive mindset, reassuring the group that the retrospective will be conducted openly, with trust, non-judgementally and without apportioning blame.

Kerth tells a story of how every aspect of a sailing race was reviewed after a competitor died. Nobody was looking for a scapegoat or to find fault or judge others’ actions; they were looking for lessons so they could prevent future fatalities in a race. He wanted to see more of that type of introspection amongst teams.

Facilitators will often read the Prime Directive out loud at the start of the Sprint Retrospective, and then put it up on the wall so that it’s visible throughout. However, our experience is that you cannot rely solely on the Prime Directive to instil feelings of trust, openness, collaboration, etc.; you should look for other methods of encouragement and use them in conjunction with the Prime Directive.

Although the Prime Directive is mainly used for Sprint Retrospectives, there is no reason to limit its use to only those events.


This week’s blog post is a chapter from our book, Scrum 101: the most frequently asked questions about Agile with Scrum, which is available to buy for $12.60 (that’s about £9.60).

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