Favourite Retrospective formats

I enjoy running and facilitating retrospectives - I think it’s a good way to dig into larger problems that tend to get lost in the day to day of scrums and deadlines and work. I’ve found a few nice ways to run retros - especially when some of the team is remote - this is a great tool for real time writing of issues, voting on them, etc: http://funretro.github.io/distributed/

I’ve tried a few formats, like the wedding retro, which is cheesy but fun:
Something Old - Positive feedback or constructive criticism on established practice
Something New - Positive feedback or constructive criticism on experiments in progress
Something Borrowed - Tool/idea from another team, the Web or yourself for a potential experiment
Something Blue - Any blocker or source of sadness

I’ve used this tool to come up with ideas as well: https://plans-for-retrospectives.com/en/

I’m considering trying to get testsphere involved in future retrospectives somehow - not sure how but I think the feelings and risks cards might be a good shout - maybe matching feelings to risks or something.

Lets talk about retrospectives! What do you like/not like about them, how do you do yours, etc.


We used to run retro’s in the following steps:

  1. Prepare by having everyone write down post-its with topics on them
  2. Have a fun activity such as: “if the sprint was a movie, which one would it be?”
  3. Divide the topics in: Positive, Negative and To Discuss.
  4. Go through topics and talk them through

My two main issues with most retrospectives is that either it often becomes one big complaining session and second that no clear actions, solutions or responsibilities come out of it.
I’d like the last phase of a retro to focus on: “ok, we’ve all felt this pain because of this, how can we make sure this either never happens again, or when it does, have a plan in place to deal with it?”

tldr: Have retrospectives generate possible solutions, not only complain about problems.

Great topic!
Retrospectives are extremely important, they are the heart of continuous improvement.
I try to vary the format to keep them interesting for the teams.
In my humble opinion key to every retrospective we should agree that:

  1. It is a safe place where everybody feels they can say what they feel without repercussions
  2. It is a place where everybody contributes
  3. It is a democratic place, majority decides what we will focus on
  4. Experiments are designed for the problems identified and progress is celebrated

I normally use one with “do more”/“do less”/“start doing”/"puzzles"
I have also used lean coffee as a retrospective format and people generally like it.
I have done the “boat retrospective” and found it very good for the team members to get to know each other better
I have done the “timeline” retrospective after a big milestone to reflect on the highs and lows
I like experimenting with retrospectives
I have also used PopcornFlow instead of retrospectives and I love it

I think that an external facilitator can help hear all the different voices with no bias

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Strongly agree that ‘Retrospectives as venting therapy’ is good for approx. 10 seconds then if you don’t have any constructive action points after that, you’re wasting time. You can complain fruitlessly in the pub after work :wink:

I’m actually planning on doing a retro on our past retros - see which action points have been covered off, how that’s gone, if we still need to work on it, which might not be relevant any more, and which ones we need to start to tackle, etc. A reto of retros? Retro-ception?

I’ve never heard of PopcornFlow before! Looks really interesting, will have to check it out.

I’ve done the boat one, and the little three pigs one as well. I like the idea of a lean coffee style one. We do kanban rather than sprints so while we try to do retros regularly, there is no neat time box of work that our retro can cover, so I’m wondering if a lean coffee style would work better. There’s less pressure to categorise what you want to talk about and just say ‘I’d like to get people’s opinion on X, here’s my thoughts’?

I’m also not above providing baked goods/treats as bribery to get people happy and chatting

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very interested in “the little three pigs one” any good link?
My teams normally do kanban (because of continuous delivery) and we try to have cadence for retros as otherwise it is easy to slip and not do them.
Lean coffee fits perfectly a situation where you do frequent retros (weekly) and also other scenarios like community of practices or even meetups

That’s why you need a competent facilitator.
I use 3 ways to avoid non constructive moaning/venting

  1. Read the “retrospective prime directive” at the start and ask the people to agree to it
  2. Use a retro format that focuses on facts rather than people
  3. If that’s not sufficient I challenge the offending person to speak about actionable improvements making clear that moaning is not part of continuous improvement and has no benefit to anybody
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Three little pigs! http://www.funretrospectives.com/three-little-pigs/

We used to be really good at doing retros every 2 weeks (and in fact one of our action points from this retro was to set the date of the next one at the end of the meeting and see if we can find someone to ‘own’ that retro (or set up a revolving chair).

Our facilitator was of the conviction that a good retrospective has quite a bit of complaining.
Because if these things aren’t aired in the team as a group, they will be next to the coffee machine in smaller groups, thus creating friction and factions with the team. (or at least increase the possibility of that happening.)

I can see merit in a session where people can air their feelings and complaints, but get annoyed when there’s no solutions are given.
After a couple of such sessions, I asked to invest the last 10 minutes of the retro to focus on action points. Those action points would then be added to the sprint and would actively work towards improving our situation.
It worked most of the time, still wish we could’ve done more though. :slight_smile:

I like to do four (main) phases to retros:

  1. Scene setting (intro, timings, explain the format etc)
  2. Using post its or the distributed board, everyone writes down their thoughts for each section in one 15/20min session (if doing a good/bad/could be better or mad/sad/glad etc)
  3. We collate similar topics, then discuss in order (top to bottom). This allows venting, agreement, covering different views of scenarios etc)
  4. We try to create at least one action point per discussion
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Hi there

While working as a PM recently I was fortunate enough to be immersed in a number of different formats for running retro’s - more recently I facilitated a 6 thinking hats retro and found that really interesting.

There is a great trello board with loads of retro ideas that may be of use to people.

Retro Trello Board

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Fun Retro seems nice, but any other tools anybody would suggest?

I enjoy the structure of what worked, what did not work, and action items to be addressed by the next retrospective. Everyone can list 1-2 things in the what works what did not work, or add a +1 to any of the suggestions (This is for team members that may not be as confident in meetings to speak up). I like to phrase things in general instead of specific so we can speak to process and development rather than personal blame. Generally, mistakes or issues seen in a sprint are not the faults of any one person, but a great many, so performing a Root Cause Analysis to get at the origin of the problem to look at a solution, rather than symptoms of the problem

The purpose of a retrospective is to facilitate continuous improvement. I’ve found that the format does not really matter* as long as the retro is based on a few basic points:

  1. Everyone is able to contribute equally (post-it notes work well so that quieter team members get their say)
  2. People feel free to speak honestly and openly without repercussions
  3. Conversations are respectful and focus on issues/facts and not people or personalities

I’ve seen successful retros use WWW (wins, wishes and worries), sailboat (and Star Wars variants on this!), the good the bad and the ugly, air balloon, all of which allow conversations about both good and not-so-good.

Once everyone has contributed via post-its or other means, they can be grouped and then team members vote on which items or groups of items to discuss. Starting with the most popular, discussing each item and thinking about solutions, actions will usually fall out of the discussion.

*It’s important to mix the format up to keep people interested and stimulated. Rotating the facilitator can help this - we select the next facilitator by a ‘wheel of fortune’ which adds a fun element to the end of the retro.