Project Management

Open your mind: 9 Retrospective methods and games

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

If you are reading this, it’s a fair assumption to say you are already familiar with the Retrospective meeting – one of the four events prescribed by Scrum framework, for inspection and adaptation, but also by other Agile frameworks. So, let’s jump right into it:

  1. Probably the most widely used method in the industry is to discuss on a retro board:
    • What went well
    • What could have gone better
    • Action points

It’s widely used because it has a positive approach, it highlights that we should have some action points at the end, if we actually want to make things better and it facilitates a follow-up. When using this method, it is recommended to start the next retro by looking at the action we committed to in the previous retro. I thoroughly recommend this because it shows the team there is some purpose to this meeting and we’re changing things for the better.

Can be used on a virtual retro board.

2. SSC which is short for: Start (doing…), Stop (doing…), Continue (doing…)

It resembles the first method, because Continue maps to What went well, while the things that Could have gone better mix with the Actions into Start and Stop. Personally, I don’t like the radical aspect of Start and Stop, as I favour incremental small improvements.

Can be used on a virtual retro board.

3. KALM, short for:

Keep … something that works well and brings value

Add… something new that might bring value

Less… something that it’s already being done, but the team would rather do less

More… something that it’s already being done and the team found useful or simply enjoyed

The challenge with this method is to be rational about what gets added in the Less and More columns, because the team might want to do less unit coding perhaps, but reducing code coverage in the tests is not recommended. However it has a positive balance: 3 “good” columns (keep, add, more) and only one “bad” column (less).

Can be used on a virtual retro board.

4. The 4L’s, short for: Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed for

I like the emphasis on the learning process, because it shows people how we evolve by doing and that learning is a continuous process. I don’t like the null score of 2 positive columns (Liked and Learned) vs 2 negative columns (Lacked and Longed for).

Can be used on a virtual retro board.

5. Sailboat / Speedcar – A gamification method, starts by drawing either a sailboat with wind in its sail and an anchor (ignore the technical design of such a boat) or a speedcar with an engine and an open parachute behind it (again, ignore the laws of physics and the technical design).

The team gets some post-it notes, writes down their ideas and then places the cards on the drawing: things that dragged the team behind get placed on the anchors / parachute, things that pushed the team forward get placed on the sail or the engine. Neither of these two leaves explicit room for clear actions to be taken.

Suited for physical boards and co-located teams.

6. One word retro – Another gamification method, starts by asking the team to define the sprint in one word. Each team member has to do it and I would recommend to ask the team to write the word down first, then show the cards (or submit the word in a chat). That is because once the first person has spoken, many of the following people will just pick up the same word. If you have different words, it allows for each team member to state his/her opinion. It encourages talk and ideally should be used with one of the first 4 methods. The facilitator plays the most important part here as he/she must be an active listener, respect each person’s feelings and opinions and be able to summarize.

7. “Token of appreciation” – if the team is co-located, you get, let’s say, a box of candy or a symbolic item (an acorn, a pebble); you can even use drink shots if it works for your team, and each team member gets one piece of the “token” and has to offer it to one and only one other person in the team.

 8. “Hero of the Sprint” – this is a gamification method I’ve developed on my own, but I’m probably not the first one that thought about it. It’s similar to “token of appreciation” in terms of end goal.

Given that most enterprise teams are globally distributed, I thought it’s a nice way to show appreciation by having each person declaring who was the Hero of the Sprint for them. It could be somebody who helped you solve a db connection issue or some complicated bug or somebody who worked overtime to make sure a deployment gets done on time. The reasons behind each nomination must be relevant only to the person nominating the Hero and I find it a nice way to express gratitude and build connections inside the team.

9. “Lean coffee” (see also – The participants gather, build an agenda (therefore there will be only topics that they really want to discuss), set up a kanban board (board lanes: to discuss, discussing, discussed) then vote what will get into the backlog column of “to discuss”.

There are options (online tools) for virtual teams as well, but this fits best for face to face meetups. I don’t find it a good option for time boxed meetings, although it can be adjusted to work for those as well.

I wish you all, funnier and happier retrospectives!

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