My Go To Retrospective Format

Retrospective Format

Having facilitated many retrospectives over the years, there is common format (excuse the image pun, “4” mat) that I have found helpful regardless of the technique (check out my Favorite Retrospective Techniques post) used. The format used is based primarily from what I learned at The Agile Facilitator course by the Agile Coaching Institute, and what I read in Ester Derby and Diana Larsen’s, “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” book. If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend attending the course and reading the book, for sure.

Retrospective Format

The format goes in the following order:

  1. Warm up (get all attendees to say something, however short)
  2. Set the Stage (why are we here, what is the agenda)
  3. Brainstorm (usually silent brainstorming)
  4. Explain/Combine
  5. Vote
  6. Develop Action Plan
  7. Wrap up (thank everyone)

Warm up

This is a simple technique to get each attendee to say something. This helps even the most introverted feel more comfortable sharing later when asked to come up with ideas. Typically I use something like a weather forecast to describe what we are retrospecting. For example, if it was about the last sprint (Scrum terms for a duration of time to build a working piece of product, typically 2 weeks or less), one attendee may say, “cloudy with a chance of rain.” Another might say, “Thunderstorms with lighting.” I don’t ask anyone to explain further just provide your weather forecast, that is it. You would be surprised how much this technique opens the quiet ones into sharing.

Another warm up technique is just to allow each attendee a maximum number of words to describe what is being retrospected. I usually go with 5 words or less.

Set the Stage

Give the purpose of the meeting and walk through the rest of the agenda. I make sure to remind the group that we aren’t here to blame and complain, we are here to help ourselves (the team) improve as a team. Walk through the technique (pick from one in this post) that will be used. Note: You should have already planned how long each agenda item will take and as the facilitator be mindful of this as the retrospective unfolds.

Brainstorm

Typically I use silent brainstorming, about 5 minutes where the attendees are writing on Sticky notes and posting them on the board. I make sure I preface this section by saying that we aren’t looking for solutions on the sticky notes. We are looking for ideas. Then I give some examples of what a solution looks like versus an idea. An example of a solution might be, “start stand up on time,” “stop checking in code only at the end of sprint,” or “have the Product Owner attend the stand up.” An example of ideas might be, “start communicating more,” “stop working on so many projects at once,” or “start sharing knowledge.”

I typically announce what is written on the Sticky notes as they are placed on the board. I find that this spurs others to think of something they hadn’t thought of. Some can find this distracting, so feel out whether the group is okay with this.

Explain/Combine

After the brainstorming section, allow the group to review what was submitted and ask if they would like any clarification on what was submitted. If there are some obvious ones that might be misunderstood, invite the submitter to provide some more context. If there are also ideas that seem similar or the same, ask the group if you may combine them.

Vote

With the group understanding what each idea means, it is time to vote. I tell the group that their vote is going to the idea or ideas that they think will have the highest return on energy to implement.

I typically give each attendee 3 or 5 votes. If I have dot stickers laying around, I pass those out. Nine times out of ten, I usually just have them use a marker to indicate a vote. Making sure that they put the mark on the sticky note. A word of caution here, make sure the attendees don’t use a permanent marker on a whiteboard if you are collocated. I have made that mistake before. Luckily a dry erase marker over the permanent marking will remove it with a little elbow grease.

I tell the group that they can place all their votes on one idea or spread them across multiple ideas.

Once everyone has voted, sum up the votes on each idea and then move the top voted ideas (no more than 3) to different section. I usually label this section, “Develop Action Plan.”

Develop Action Plan

Now is the time to get the biggest value out of the retrospective. Developing the action plan from the top voted idea(s). Hopefully you have at least 15 minutes left until the scheduled meeting end time. And make sure that 2 minutes is left for wrapping up.

I focus the group to think about what measurable actions can be taken to improve the top voted idea. As actions begin coming, either invite a participant to write it down and bring it up or write it down for the group. Make sure the action is measurable and then once it is, invite one of the participants to be the champion/cheerleader of this action. This is very important. I express that the champion/cheerleader is not necessarily the person that will implement the action but will be the one that holds the group accountable for implementing it.

For example, if the group voted “Start meetings on time” as their highest vote, then one action might be “Start daily at 9am with the conference line up and taskboard shared before the start time.” One of the team members can champion this action and monitor it for the upcoming weeks and also remind the group when they aren’t doing this.

I prefer to fully develop each action, one at a time, so that if the meeting end time happens then the group has at least some actions to implement.

Wrap Up

You may not get through all of the top voted ideas before the end of the meeting. That is okay, if these are continued issues, they will come up again. End the meeting on time and celebrate what actions were developed.

Thank the entire group for their contributions and presence.

Alright, well that wraps up My Go To Retrospective Format. I invite you to give it a shot and let me know how it goes in the comments.

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