The best retrospective for beginners

(Don’t know what a retrospective is? Start here!)

Are you new to facilitating retrospectives? Then you’re probably wondering how to best get started. For what it’s worth, here’s my “Given that I know nothing about you or the team’s situation here’s my best shot at a multi-purpose, easy to facilitate retrospective plan”:

Positive & True
Why: Create a positive vibe and give everyone an opportunity to speak.
How: Ask your neighbor a question that is tailored to get a response that is positive, true and about their own experiences, e.g.

  • What have you done really well in the last iteration?
  • What is something that makes you really happy?
  • What nice thing did you do for someone else last iteration?

Then your neighbor asks their neighbor on the other side the same question and so on until everyone has answered and asked.

This will give everyone a boost and lead to better results.

Learning Matrix combined with Lean Coffee
Why:
Learning Matrix is a great multi-purpose method that has “appreciation for others” built-in. I use it to gather topics and then use Lean Coffee to structure and time box the conversations about these topics. I rely on Lean Coffee a lot!
How: Show a flip chart with 4 quadrants labeled ‘:)’, ‘:(‘, ‘Idea!’, and ‘Appreciation’. Hand out sticky notes.

  • Let team members silently write their ideas for all the quadrant onto sticky notes – 1 thought per note.
  • Go around the team and let everyone put up their stickies on the flipchart. The person also  describes their topic in 1 or 2 sentences. Cluster stickies that are about the same topic.
  • Hand out 5 dots for people to vote on the most important issues, i.e. the ones they’d like to discuss. They can distribute the dots any way they like, i.e. they can put them all on one topic  or five different ones and everything in between.
  • Order the stickies according to votes.
  • Say how much time you set aside for this phase and then explain the rules:
    We’ll start with the topic of highest interest. We’ll set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer beeps, everyone gives a quick thumbs up or down. Majority of thumbs up: The topic gets another 5 minutes. Majority of thumbs down: Start the next topic with 10 minutes on the clock.
  • Stop when the allotted time is over.

Worked Well, Do Differently
Why:
Keep track of suggested action items
How: In preparation for the retrospective head 2 flip charts with ‘Worked well’ and ‘Do differently next time’ respectively. Write down suggestions for actions that people mention during Lean Coffee. State clearly that these are only suggestions for now. The team will vote on these later.

When all Lean Coffee time is talked up, ask if there are any more suggestions for actions. If so, let them write in silence for a few minutes – 1 idea per sticky note. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on which action items to try by distributing dots or X’s with a marker, e.g. 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.

AHA
Why: Demonstrate the usefulness of retrospectives by asking for lessons learned
How: Throw a ball (e.g. koosh ball) around the team to uncover learning experiences. Give out a question at the beginning that people answer when they catch the ball, such as:

  • One thing I learned in the last iteration

Depending on the question it might uncover events that are bugging people. If any alarm bells go off, dig deeper.


You need at least 1 hour of time.

If you’re new to facilitation in general, not just for retros, check out this 1-pager on ways to vote.

In many situations the above plan will result in a nice, effective retrospective for you and your team.

To get a better understanding of retrospectives, make sure to read Agile Retrospectives. (If you prefer reading in German, check out Erfolgreiche Retrospektiven.)

Facilitate a few retros to gain experience and when you run out of ideas, Retromat is always there to help. Just don’t use the first random plan you get. Adapt it to your and your team’s needs! For example the above plan in Retromat looks like this.

PS: Interested in retrospectives? Sign up to the Retromat newsletter to get related news and tips!

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