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Analyze Stories (#5)

Walk through each story handled by the team and look for possible improvements
Source: Corinna Baldauf
Preparation: Collect all stories handled during the iteration and bring them along to the retrospective.
In a group (10 people max.) read out each story. For each one discuss whether it went well or not. If it went well, capture why. If not discuss what you could do differently in the future.
Variants: You can use this for support tickets, bugs or any combination of work done by the team.

Analyze Stories (#5)

Walk through each story handled by the team and look for possible improvements
Source: Corinna Baldauf
Preparation: Collect all stories handled during the iteration and bring them along to the retrospective.
In a group (10 people max.) read out each story. For each one discuss whether it went well or not. If it went well, capture why. If not discuss what you could do differently in the future.
Variants: You can use this for support tickets, bugs or any combination of work done by the team.

Like to like (#6)

Participants match quality cards to their own Start-Stop-Continue-proposals
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Preparation: ca. 20 quality cards, i.e. colored index cards with unique words such as fun, on time, clear, meaningful, awesome, dangerous, nasty
Each team member has to write at least 9 index cards: 3 each with things to start doing, keep doing and stop doing. Choose one person to be the first judge. The judge turns the first quality card. From their own cards each member chooses the best match for this word and places it face down on the table.The last one to choose has to take their card back on their hand. The judge shuffles all submitted cards, turns them one by one and rules the best fit = winning card. All submitted cards are discarded. The submitter of the winning card receives the quality card. The person left of the judge becomes the new judge.
Stop when everyone runs out of cards (6-9 rounds). Whoever has the most quality cards wins. Debrief by asking for takeaways.
(Game is based on 'Apples to Apples')

Speedboat / Sailboat (#19)

Analyze what forces push you forward and what pulls you back
Source: Luke Hohmann, found at Mike Griffiths
Draw a speedboat onto a flip chart paper. Give it a strong motor as well as a heavy anchor. Team members silently write on sticky notes what propelled the team forward and what kept it in place. One idea per note. Post the stickies motor and anchor respectively. Read out each one and discuss how you can increase 'motors' and cut 'anchors'.

Variation: Some people add an iceberg in the back of the image. The iceberg represents obstacles they already see coming.

Speedboat / Sailboat (#19)

Analyze what forces push you forward and what pulls you back
Source: Luke Hohmann, found at Mike Griffiths
Draw a speedboat onto a flip chart paper. Give it a strong motor as well as a heavy anchor. Team members silently write on sticky notes what propelled the team forward and what kept it in place. One idea per note. Post the stickies motor and anchor respectively. Read out each one and discuss how you can increase 'motors' and cut 'anchors'.

Variation: Some people add an iceberg in the back of the image. The iceberg represents obstacles they already see coming.

Proud & Sorry (#33)

What are team members proud or sorry about?
Source: Agile Retrospectives
Put up two posters labeled 'proud' and 'sorry'. Team members write down one instance per sticky note. When the time is up have everyone read out their note and post it to the appropriate poster.
Start a short conversation e.g. by asking:
  • Did anything surprise you?
  • What patterns do you see? What do they mean for you as a team?

Empty the Mailbox (#47)

Look at notes collected during the iteration
Source: Nick Oostvogels
Set up a 'retrospective mailbox' at the beginning of the iteration. Whenever something significant happens or someone has an idea for improvement, they write it down and 'post' it. (Alternatively the 'mailbox' can be a visible place. This can spark discussion during the iteration.)
Go through the notes and discuss them.
A mailbox is great for long iterations and forgetful teams.

Empty the Mailbox (#47)

Look at notes collected during the iteration
Source: Nick Oostvogels
Set up a 'retrospective mailbox' at the beginning of the iteration. Whenever something significant happens or someone has an idea for improvement, they write it down and 'post' it. (Alternatively the 'mailbox' can be a visible place. This can spark discussion during the iteration.)
Go through the notes and discuss them.
A mailbox is great for long iterations and forgetful teams.

Lean Coffee (#51)

Use the Lean Coffee format for a focused discussion of the top topics
Source: Original description and in action
Say how much time you set aside for this phase, then explain the rules of Lean Coffee for retrospectives:
  • Everyone writes down topics they’d like to discuss - 1 topic per sticky
  • Put the stickies up on a whiteboard or flipchart. The person who wrote it describes the topic in 1 or 2 sentences. Group stickies that are about the same topic
  • Everyone dot-votes for the 2 topics they want to discuss
  • Order the stickies according to votes
  • Start with the topic of highest interest
  • Set a timer for 5 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.
Stop when the allotted time is over.

Lean Coffee (#51)

Use the Lean Coffee format for a focused discussion of the top topics
Source: Original description and in action
Say how much time you set aside for this phase, then explain the rules of Lean Coffee for retrospectives:
  • Everyone writes down topics they’d like to discuss - 1 topic per sticky
  • Put the stickies up on a whiteboard or flipchart. The person who wrote it describes the topic in 1 or 2 sentences. Group stickies that are about the same topic
  • Everyone dot-votes for the 2 topics they want to discuss
  • Order the stickies according to votes
  • Start with the topic of highest interest
  • Set a timer for 5 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.
Stop when the allotted time is over.

Expectations (#62)

What can others expect of you? What can you expect of them?
Source: Valerie Santillo
Give each team member a piece of paper. The lower half is blank. The top half is divided into two sections:
  • What my team mates can expect from me
  • What I expect from my team mates
Each person fills out the top half for themselves. When everyone is finished, they pass their paper to the left and start reviewing the sheet that was passed to them. In the lower half they write what they personally expect from that person, sign it and pass it on.
When the papers made it around the room, take some time to review and share observations.

Quartering - Identify boring stories (#64)

Categorize stories in 2 dimensions to identify boring ones
Source: Wayne D. Grant
Draw a big square and divide it into 2 columns. Label them 'Interesting' and 'Dull'. Let the team write down everything they did last iteration on stickies and put it into the appropriate column. Have them add a rough estimate of how long it took on each of their own stickies.
Now add a horizontal line so that your square has 4 quadrants. Label the top row 'Short' (took hours) and the bottom row 'Long' (took days). Rearrange the stickies in each column.
The long and dull stories are now nicely grouped to 'attack' in subsequent phases.

(Splitting the assessment into several steps, improves focus. You can adapt Quartering for lots of other 2-dimensional categorizations.)

Appreciative Inquiry (#65)

Lift everyone's spirit with positive questions
Source: Doug Bradbury, adapted for SW development by Corinna Baldauf
This is a round-based activity. In each round you ask the team a question, they write down their answers (gives everyone time to think) and then read them out to the others.
Questions proposed for Software Development teams:
  1. When was the last time you were really engaged / animated / productive? What did you do? What had happened? How did it feel?
  2. From an application-/code-perspective: What is the awesomest stuff you've built together? What makes it great?
  3. Of the things you built for this company, which has the most value? Why?
  4. When did you work best with the Product Owner? What was good about it?
  5. When was your collaboration best?
  6. What was your most valuable contribution to the developer community (of this company)? How did you do it?
  7. Leave your modesty at the door: What is the most valuable skill / character trait you contribute to the team? Examples?
  8. What is your team's most important trait? What sets you apart?

('Remember the Future' (#37) works well as the next step.)

Writing the Unspeakable (#75)

Write down what you can never ever say out loud
Source: Unknown, via Vanessa
Do you suspect that unspoken taboos are holding back the team? Consider this silent activity: Stress confidentiality ('What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas') and announce that all notes of this activity will be destroyed in the end. Only afterwards hand out a piece of paper to each participant to write down the biggest unspoken taboo in the company.
When everyone's done, they pass their paper to their left-hand neighbors. The neighbors read and may add comments. Papers are passed on and on until they return to their authors. One last read. Then all pages are ceremoniously shredded or (if you're outside) burned.

4 Ls - Loved, Learned, Lacked, Longed for (#78)

Explore what people loved, learned, lacked and longed for individually
Source: Mary Gorman & Ellen Gottesdiener probably via groupmap.com
Each person brainstorms individually for each of these 4 questions:
  • What I Loved
  • What I Learned
  • What I Lacked
  • What I Longed For
Collect the answers, either stickies on flip charts or in a digital tool if you're distributed. Form 4 subgroups, on for each L, read all notes, identify patterns and report their findings to the group. Use this as input for the next phase.

Value Stream Mapping (#79)

Draw a value stream map of your iteration process
Source: Paolo 'Nusco' Perrotta, inspired by Mary & Tom Poppendieck
Explain an example of Value Stream Mapping. (If you're unfamiliar with it, check out this video or this printable 1-pager.) Ask the team to draw a value stream map of their process from the point of view of a single user story. If necessary, ask them to break into small groups, and facilitate the process if they need it. Look at the finished map. Where are long delays, choke points and bottlenecks?

Repeat & Avoid (#80)

Brainstorm what to repeat and what behaviours to avoid
Source: Luis Goncalves
Head 2 flip charts with 'Repeat' and 'Avoid' respectively. The participants write issues for the columns on sticky notes - 1 per issue. You can also color code the stickies. Example categories are 'People', 'Process', 'Technology', ... Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate column. Are all issues unanimous?

Lines of Communication (#86)

Visualize how information flows in, out and around the team
Source: Tarmo Aidantausta
Is information not flowing as well as it needs to? Do you suspect bottlenecks? Visualize the ways information flows to find starting points for improvements. If you want to look at one specific flow (e.g. product requirements, impediments, ...) check out Value Stream Mapping (#79). For messier situations try something akin to Cause-Effect-Diagrams (#25).
Look at the finished drawing. Where are delays or dead ends?

Meeting Satisfaction Histogram (#87)

Create a histogram on how well ritual meetings went during the iteration
Source: Fanny Santos
Prepare a flip chart for each meeting that recurs every iteration, (e.g. the Scrum ceremonies) with a horizontal scale from 1 ('Did not meet expectations') to 5 ('Exceeds Expectations'). Each team member adds a sticky note based on their rating for each of these meetings. Let the team discuss why some meetings do not have a rating of 5.
You can discuss improvements as part of this activity or in a later activity such as Perfection Game (#20) or Plus \& Delta (#40).

Retro Wedding (#89)

Collect examples for something old, new, borrowed and blue
Source: Jordan Morris, via Todd Galloway
Analogue to an anglo-american wedding custom ask the team to give examples for the following categories:
  • Something Old
    Positive feedback or constructive criticism on established practice
  • Something New
    Positive feedback or constructive criticism on experiments in progress
  • Something Borrowed
    Tool/idea from another team, the Web or yourself for a potential experiment
  • Something Blue
    Any blocker or source of sadness
One example per sticky note. There's only one rule: If someone contributes to the 'Something Blue' column, s/he must also have a positive comment in at least 1 other column.

Everyone posts their stickies in the appropriate column on the board and describes it briefly.