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Sunday, February 12, 2017

3 Ways To Spice Up Your next Retrospective

7:23:00 PM Posted by Prashant Hegde 2 comments

Sprint retrospective is an opportunity for agile teams to reflect on their way of working, and to continuously improve in what they do. No matter how productive or successful your team is, there’s always room for improvement. There are always ways to do things better. 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. The Sprint Retrospective occurs after the Sprint Review and provides a formal opportunity to focus on inspection and adaptation.

Most frequently heard problems with traditional retrospectives:

  • Engaging the team to actively participate in retrospections can be challenging -Some people never speak up and retrospectives are dominated by a few members of the team. If stakeholders participate they dominate the retrospectives.

  • Lack of creativity in the retrospectives makes the activity very boring.

  • Retrospective becomes monotonous and tedious as they happen after every sprint. Think about the short sprints(like 8 or 15 days sprint).

  • Retrospectives do not add value as they are just done for the sake of doing it and no plan is done to remove impediments that are identified.Actions items get accumulated and they are never taken up, they just remain in a document. Many times action items are themselves are very vague.

  • No one from the team is willing to take ownership of the improvements that are identified.

  • Some people use retrospectives as a platform to praise/promote themselves or criticise other teammates.

Let’s look at some fun sprint retrospective ideas that will help you to overcome some of these issues.


This is one of my favorite visualization techniques used in retrospectives. I use this with my team and this works really well for us. This technique was introduced by Luke Hohmann, who presented it as one of the innovation games in his book “Innovation Games”.

The Sail Ship technique is quite simple. Draw a picture on your board as shown above.

1. The Ship represents the sprint team.
2. The winds(represented by the gusts of wind pushing the boat forward) are allowing the team or the project to proceed.
3. The anchors represent the impediments/hindrances to the team or project.
4. The island represents the goal.

The team members will individually write the positives(winds) and negatives(anchors) in the sticky note. This will make sure that everyone has contributed to retrospection and is not dominated by a single person. Later sticky notes are collected and grouped. The team later will come up with action items to remove every anchor that is listed.

There are different variants of the same activity like
  • Speed Plane
  • Hot-air Balloon
  • Speed Car


The starfish retrospective technique helps agile teams by getting them to reflect on varying degrees of things that they want to bring up, without having it fit into ‘What Went Well’ or ‘Not So Well’ so it scales a little bit better. This concept was introduced by Pat Kua.

Draw a starfish that will create 5 partitions as follows:

  1. Keep Doing – something the team is doing great and you recognized the value of it.

  1. Less Of – something the team is already doing; you see some value, but you rather reduce a little bit.

  1. More Of –  something already being done; and you believe will bring more value if done even more.

  1. Stop Doing – something that is not adding value or causing hindrance to the team.

  1. Start Doing – a new idea, a new development practice, a new tool or something that might add value.

Getting people to either write things up under the starfish in this manner gives you a scattergram of sorts and at one glance tells you the health of your project. Once again identify the action items and work on the improvement areas.

Three Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs is a fun retrospective activity that is based on the fable featuring anthropomorphic pigs who build three houses of different materials. A wolf blows down the first two pigs houses, made of straw and sticks respectively, but is unable to destroy the third pig's house, made of bricks. This activity was introduced by Steve Wells.

1.Draw and explain the participants the 3 columns:
  • House of straw – what do we do that just about hangs together, but could topple over at any minute.
  • House of sticks – what do we do that is pretty good,  but can be improved.
  • House of bricks – what do we do that is very solid and we need to continue doing it.

The participants write their opinions on sticky notes and post it under respective columns and later are filtered and common entries are grouped. The action items are identified and assigned to respective team members.

Another similar approach is

Thirsty Crow

Based on the story of a thirsty crow that comes upon a pitcher with water at the bottom, beyond the reach of its beak. After failing to push it over, the bird drops in pebbles one by one until the water rises to the top of the pitcher, allowing it to drink.

  • Straw(assume the bird can use a straw to drink water) – What we are doing is awesome and we need to continue doing it.
  • Stone/Pebble –  What do we do that is pretty good,  but can be improved.
  • Cork(Floats) – What we are doing is not helping us rather blocking us from reaching our goal.

Retrospectives do not have to be serious all the time. Make sure retrospectives become pleasant and an enjoyable activity. Make sure you celebrate small successes or accomplishments no matter how small they are.

So what are you waiting for? Try out any of these creative techniques and spice up your retrospective.

You can find more innovative ideas for your retrospectives here:

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