While working on an Agile team, a ceremony that you face often (sprintly?) is a Retrospective. Ideally this should happen at the end of every sprint and the team should use the learnings to improve in the future sprints.

As per the Scrum Guide written by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland:

The Sprint Retrospective is an opportunity for the Scrum Team to inspect itself and create a plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint.

Schwaber and Sutherland also speak about why retrospectives are important to a scrum team.

Purpose of the Retrospective:

  • As a group, determine how the previous Sprint went in relation to team dynamics, workflows and tools;
  • Identify and prioritize the items that went well and possible improvements; and,
  • Create action items to improve processes, relationships and tools in future sprints for a productive and harmonious team.

Retrospective can be in effective for the teams who lack focus and commitment to continuous improvement. However, if you have a team that is motivated and proactive in their development as a cohesive team, then a retrospective can be a vital ceremony for the team to practice.

Quite often, we have heard teams complaining about the time spent on retrospectives. There is an atmosphere of wanting to avoid them, or not giving them much importance.

In order to make retrospectives more engaging, we have compiled some retrospective approaches that we have used in the past that have garnered interest within teams. Do remember that this is a rough guideline and need not be followed to the tee. It’s always good to stay creative, especially while planning a retrospective for a team.

1. Basic/Traditional Format

This format includes categorizing feedback points from the team, usually into 3 or 4 sections, and discussion each section with the team together.

4 Quadrants

What you will need:

  • A mediator (usually the Scrum Master of the team)
  • White board/ Black board
  • Markers/ Chalk

How to conduct this:

  • On a white board/ black board, divide a square section into 4 quadrants.
  • Label the sections: What Went Well, What didn’t go well, Ideas, Appreciations.
  • Discuss of the 4 points with the team, noting the points brought up.
  • Involve each team member and encourage them to speak up.
  • As a team, agree on action items for future sprints.

Alternate formats:

You can use any categories that need to be discussed. Some are:

  • Mad, Sad, Glad
  • Success, Failure, Planned, Unplanned
  • Drop, Add, Keep, Improve

When this should be used:

This format is best used in the beginning of a project or when a team is new and not yet comfortable. This will bring out the basic and important pain points of the team and help the team to gauge how other team members work and what needs improving.

2. Board Game Retrospective

There are a number of retrospective games available online. You can find some interesting ones here:

https://luis-goncalves.com/agile-retrospectives-ideas-exercises/

Otherwise, you can create a board game customizable to your team. For example, if you work in a pizza loving team you can have a section where person/group of people have to buy a pizza for the team. 😃

What you will need:

  • A board game
  • Pieces to move
  • Dice

How to Play:

Once the game is set up, each team member should take a turn to roll the dice and follow the instructions on the board. The instructions usually involve discussions around activities in the previous sprint and feedback about them.

When this should be used:

This should be used when a team has been around for a long time and all members are comfortable with each other. It can be used to keep the meeting interesting, especially if you feel the team has been in a rut recently and needs to have a little bit of fun.

3. Fish Bowl Retrospective

This is a twist on the party game fish bowl.

What you will need:

  • A mediator (usually the Scrum Master of the team)
  • A large bowl
  • Different colored post-its

How to Play:

  • Distribute post-its of different colors to each team member.
  • Keep a stack of post-its handy in case anyone wants to use more than the number distributed to them.
  • Decide on a category for each colored post-it. For example, What Went Well, What didn’t go well, Ideas, Appreciations.
  • Have each team member anonymously write one point on one post-it for the pre-decided post-it category.
  • Team members are welcome to write as many points as they want, as long as each point is on a separate post-it.
  • Once everybody has written their points, show them how to fold the post-its such that everyone’s look alike.
  • Ask them to drop their post-its into a bowl.
  • Shake the bowl well.
  • Read out each point, and discuss it in the group.
  • Once done, the conclusions and action items should be documented and improvement points should try to be implemented in the next sprint.

When this should be used:

This should be used when there is an existing team, but the members are not very comfortable with each other, not open to feedback or a little hesitant with airing their grievances. Since this format is anonymous, it should not be used regularly, but only when the Scrum Master feels there are some issues that are not being discussed and are hampering day to day work in a big way.

This format should also be avoided when a team is new because the anonymity may lead to discomfort in the future.

4. A Retrospective Game of Catch

A game of catch is sometimes used during Daily Stand-ups to keep everyone on their toes. Using this game at Retrospective considers the same benefits as using it at a Stand-up.

What you will need:

  • A soft ball/ stuffed toy

How to play:

  • Decide on Retrospective Categories to be discussed.
  • Throw the ball at a team member, who discusses each point.
  • The speaker then throws the ball at another team member.
  • This way, the ball should be thrown to every team member in the room in no particular order.
  • The action items and improvement points should be noted for future sprints.

When this should be used:

This should be used when not everyone on the team is proactive in taking part in the Retrospective. This situation may occur when junior members newly join a team with senior members. It may also occur in a large team where some members can say all their points were covered by other members just to avoid participating actively.

Conclusion

A retrospective has the power to alter team dynamics. If done badly, it can cause a lot of clashes within the team and that translates to the atmosphere at work. However, if done right, it can transform the team spirit and make the work day enjoyable for every team member. That’s why great care should be taken while planning and conducting a retrospective. From experience, we’ve seen that keeping things fun and light usually helps to ease into the more serious issues, while keeping a good dynamic within the team.

 

This post is co-written by Vaibhav Singh and Damayanti Anand.