Benjamin Tam

Independent Consultant
Mobile | .NET Core | Agile

5 Different Retrospective Ideas

On a recent client project that embraced many Agile ideas without adhering strictly to one methodology, I had some ‘Scrum Master’ responsibilities. One aspect of this I enjoyed in particular was facilitating our team retrospectives. Over several retros towards the end of the project when many of the easy improvements had already been identified, I endeavoured to introduce a new activity each time in an effort to keep each meeting fresh. After consideration of where the team and project was at each time, below are the activities we tried along with the rationale as to why and how it went for our team. (As an aside, a thank you to the team for being willing guinea pigs!)

1. Turn The Tables

This is a fun, interactive game that ensures everybody gets involved. In essence, the premise is that each person writes down what is good and bad about the project using only 1 or 2 words, while a different person has to explain it. The value of this activity is that it develops understanding of different perspectives as each participant has to present another team member’s input with only minimal context. As an added bonus, hilarious misunderstandings will typically come out of it, lightening the mood and bonding the team. In my opinion, it’s not a retro you would conduct every sprint but is worthwhile to consider occasionally especially when a team hasn’t quite gelled yet.

Activity Details:

2. Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed For

This activity provides the team with an analytical framework to reflect on the good and bad of a project. That is, it encourages participants to articulate the good with ‘liked’ and ‘learnt’, and the bad with ‘lacked’ and ‘longed for’. The ‘liked’ categorisation should be self explanatory, while in my experience what typically separates good developers and teams from the pack is the perpetual desire to learn. As such, encouraging participants to reflect on what they have learnt is definitely a worthwhile exercise. The differentiation between ‘lacked’ and ‘longed for’ was not immediately obvious to some and needed clarification, but the idea is the former focuses on what has been done already but could be done better in future, and the latter exists only in the realm of imagination. Like Jessica Alba and Hugh Jackman according to one of our team, without elaborating and violating the ‘circle of trust’! ;) Overall, it is a reasonably simple and worthwhile activity to run semi-regularly.

Activity Details:

3. Circles & Soup

If team feedback is anything to go by, this game is a definite winner with some of our team suggesting to do it again! The activities we previously tried, while providing variety, still tended to operate on the good-bad paradigm. With ‘circles and soup’ however, the thinking completely shifts to what is in the team’s control, what is under the team’s influence, and things that the team cannot change no matter the level of desire or effort. Thus, this simple game really helps the team to focus on the action points with the highest chances of success.

Activity Details:

4. How-Now-Wow

The crux of this activity is to categorise ideas along an x-axis of originality and y-axis representing the difficulty of implementation. As a result, a matrix of four quadrants is formed: (1) difficult, original ideas - ‘how’ (2) easy, original ideas - ‘wow’ (3) easy, normal ideas - ‘now’ (4) difficult, normal ideas - largely ignored. As a facilitator, I did not have the prescribed coloured dot stickers available and so I had to improvise. Additionally, I inadvertently treated the 2 axes as continuums rather that discrete boxes - I would suggest that it is more productive to stick to the simpler box model as prescribed. The focus of this activity is on identifying original or innovative ideas, and to that end it does it well. As such, this activity is probably best suited towards the start of a project or at a natural juncture of an ongoing one.

Activity Details:

5. Wellbeing North Star

This meeting became an unofficial retrospective for the project as a whole as it came to an end. For this, we wanted something fairly simple to frame discussion points around different aspects of the project, and so the Wellbeing North Star fit the bill well. Essentially, the idea is to put the central idea of discussion in the middle of the star, with an aspect of this idea on each point. The points of the star we used were: (1) Tech (the ‘what’) (2) Process (the ‘how’) (3) Client (i.e. the gig itself & working environment) (4) Readify (i.e. our consulting team & company) (5) Career (i.e. ‘me’). The activity went well and served its purpose.

Activity Details:

Final Thoughts

There are many activity options available once you begin to look, but I found the majority of them are simple variations along the ‘good vs bad’ axis of analysis. There is nothing wrong with this line of thinking and it served us well for a long time, but in our situation changing our retrospective format reinvigorated our retros and helped to identify suitable points of improvement.