Retrospectives sounds complicated but it is simple to facilitate and beneficial for teams. In the book Agile Retrospectives, written by Esther Derby, you will learn more details about how to run a retrospective and the different stages. In this post, I will summarize the stages and add in my take on running a retrospective.

Here are the different stages in the framework:-

  1. Set the stage.
  2. Gather data.
  3. Generate insights.
  4. Decide what to do after you’ve generated insights and lastly,
  5. Close the retrospective. 

I don’t usually go through all of the stages because I find that there’s 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 hours for about a team of fewer than 8 people. 

Set the stage

Setting the stage consists of going over guidelines like no anchoring. 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 would also go through rules to ensure team members write an idea down per sticky note so that when it’s time to share, we can share concisely and allow the facilitator to group similar ideas.

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. If this is a newly form team, instead of a regular retrospective, I recommend a team working agreement instead.

Gather data and insights

In terms of structuring the retrospective, retromat is a great resource. One I’ve used often is the Keep, Drop, Add activity. A similar structure is the Start, Stop, Continue activity.

In this case, I’ll have the first column under the title KEEP. A second column for DROP and the 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 note

I’ll give the team 5 minutes to write down an idea per sticky note on 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 (or if virtually, on a jamboard) and put their stickies up and share concisely, without going into details of their idea.

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. This helps the team to see visually the ideas that have been 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 for the ADD column.

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

Prioritize by dot voting

When there are 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 additions or something else.

Closing activity

I usually 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. Then they’ll share to show each other their appreciation.

The My Action column is the things they’ve learned and will act on 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 document so we can refer to what we’ve decided to do and follow up at our next retrospective.

If you like this article,  you might like my new course Effective Retrospectives Made Easy. It’s currently at a limited time pricing. Get it before the price goes up!

Effective Retrospective Made Easy

Comment/email me: Are you new to running a retrospective? Does anything scare you about running one?

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash