In this post, I’m going to describe how I run a retrospective for a team. So in the book Agile Retrospectives, written by Esther Derby, you’ll read a lot more in detail about how to run a retrospective and what are the different stages. 

Here are the different stages in the framework:-

Step one is to set the stage.

Step two is gather data.

Step three is generate insights.

Step four is decide what to do after you’ve generated insights and lastly,

Step five is to close the retrospective.

I don’t tend to go through all of the stages because I find there’s just not enough time and teams don’t tend to want to sit in a two hour retrospective so I usually have an hour to 1.5 hour for about a team of less than 8 people. 

Set the stage

What I’ll do is I’ll set the stage by making sure I cover some guidelines like no anchoring. So for example there’s a reason why we have sticky notes to ensure we don’t have a few strong opinions swaying others. Everyone will have an equal time to share when we’re all ready.

It’s also a reminder that it’s a blameless activity so the intention is not to blame each other for things that have gone wrong. We want to come to the retrospective with an open mind to talk about the problems and come up with solutions as a team.

I’ll go through rules like team members should write an idea down per sticky note so that when it’s time to share, we can share concisely and allows me, the facilitator to group similar ideas together.

There’s also a right and a wrong way of ripping off the sticky note (see video for a demonstration).

Most importantly, I’ll remind the team what the retrospective topic is about.

Gather data and insights

In terms of what kind of activity I’ll run during a retrospective, retromat is a great resource. One I use often is the Keep, Drop, Add activity. Something very similar is the Start, Stop, Continue activity.

I’ll have the first column under the title KEEP. A second column for DROP and a last column for ADD.

For example, the topic of our retrospective is “How did we do in our last project and how can we do better with our next project.”

Write down an idea per sticky

So I’ll give the team 5 minutes for them to write down an idea per sticky note on what are the things we did in the last project that we should keep doing for the next project.

Once the time is up, I’ll get each person to come up and put their stickies up and share concisely (without going into details) what their idea is about.

Once that person is done sharing all their ideas, I’ll get the next person to go up next. As the next person shares, I’ll group any similar ideas together. This helps the team to see visually the ideas that are shared.

All sharing is done for one column and then move on to the next column

Once everyone is done, we will move on to the next column for DROP. And I’ll repeat again for the ADD column.

Typically, the DROP column would have a few ideas and the ADD column is where there’s more changes that the team would like to see added to how the next project is ran.

Prioritize by dot voting

When there’s more than 3 ideas, at the end of sharing, I’ll get the team to prioritize by voting. I usually use dot voting by giving each person 3 votes each. They are allowed to vote by dotting an idea once or use all 3 votes by dotting 3 times if that’s what they want.

Once everyone has voted, I’ll count the votes and conclude the top 3 things we will add for our next project. It’s not ideal to have too many things to add or change as it can then become difficult to see if a team got better because of those things or something else.

Closing activity

And I try to leave about 10-15 minutes at the end of a retrospective to close out the whole meeting and leave on a high note. My favourite is a gratitude type activity. If you go to retromat, there’s many you can pick from.

One I use often is called Thank You and My Action. So for the Thank You column, each team member has a few minutes to write down what or who they want to thank. And then they’ll share to show each other their appreciation.

The My Action column is after this retrospective, what are some things they’ve learned and will action to ensure the next project is successful. This helps to keep each other accountable for our actions.

As a facilitator, I’ll either get a volunteer or myself to take photos of what we’ve shared and summarize the outcome of our meeting in a shared space so we can refer to what we’ve decided to do and follow up at our next retrospective.

Comment/email me: Are you new to running a retrospective? Anything scares you about running one?


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