A Series of Fun Retrospectives

Retrospectives are a well-known tool used by teams that work in product development. In Kaleidos we usually do it as the culmination of a sprint, just after the Sprint Demo. In this post we show examples and methods that we try, it does not mean that they are set in stone :)

We like to see these retrospectives not only as a space for self-criticism and internal reflection, but also as an exercise to improve internal communication. Retrospectives aim to analyze the last iteration (sprint in our case), how we worked, what problems we had, which things worked well and which didn't. Our goal is to identify actions to be applied immediately to try to fix the mistakes.

We also like to go beyond the theoretical framework of the methodology and spotlight the good work of colleagues or teams. It feels good to know that your work is appreciated. The role played by the person who facilitates the retrospective is very important. We choose that role in a case by case basis. Sometimes a different facilitator is designated for each sprint and other times it is the same person the whole time. Both approaches have their pros and cons that must be assessed. It is always a team decision. There are many types of retrospectives. The most common is to assess concepts such as what went well, what went wrong, what we’d like to keep, what to do to improve... The basic components are:

  • Intro (5 min) - The facilitator makes a brief introduction to remind the mechanics of the retrospective. We also usually summarize how the actions that we agreed to implement during the previous retrospective have gone. It is mainly a "warm up".

  • Dynamics or opening game (10 min) - Sharing is always good and even better if it’s done through a game. The facilitator usually prepares a small game based on the sprint. It can be anything: from "Who Is Who" to Pictionary. The goal is to create a collaborative work environment as soon as possible.

  • Generation of ideas (20 min) - This is the longest and most important part of the retrospective. We can do many different dynamics. The goal is always the same, to collect ideas as valid as possible about the sprint. Later we will show you some dynamics for this.

  • Actions (10 min) - Once we have identified and organized all the ideas we focus on the things we can improve. Many of them will have an immediate action and others will take some time. As a team we have to decide what to do to improve and move on.

  • Closing and feedback (5min) - The facilitator makes a small general summary of what happened taking notes of the resulting actions. The rest of the team usually adds some comments or suggestions about how the retrospective has gone, their feelings, if they think it has been useful and, above all, how to improve it.

Fun Group Dynamics for Generation of Ideas

This part is key. It must be flexible and simple enough so that each participant can feel comfortable to contribute ideas about the sprint. We should aim to generate as many ideas and comments as possible.

It is also a space to express personal feelings about the work and the team. This part is the most difficult one as it can generate conflict. Even so, it is important to do it so we can fix it in the best possible way.

Let’s explain some dynamics we have carried out recently. Some are better known and others have been adapted by us.

The Boat

It’s a very effective and popular dynamic. We use a metaphor to express how the sprint went. The team is the boat, the problems that stopped us are the anchor, the risks we encountered are the stones, what has helped us to move forward is the wind and to what extent we have achieved our objectives is the island. As a variant, it is good to identify past events (wind and anchor) from which we can learn and risks / objectives that we foresee (island and rocks).

Fat Guy

This example is also very well known. It is about expressing as specifically as possible which things we should improve. We must always accompany these post-its with actionable suggestions.

What have we done well in the sprint?: Things to do, things to do more of, and things to keep on doing.

What should we improve?: Stop doing it or doing it less.

Fast & Furious

Inspired in a car racing theme, this is a fun dynamic. The goal is to see which things made us go fast (“fast car”) versus things that didn’t go well (“furious car”). The one with more post-its wins!

Not only that, we also reserve a “fun zone” to highlight the partners or events that helped us during the sprint. We have “pit stops" to create actions to "repair" the things identified as bad.

The Hero’s Journey

Every participant creates a fantasy hero with its class (wizard, warrior, priest,…) according to how her or his sprint went. The next step is to see which dungeons our hero has gone through during the sprint and to identify which objectives (s)he did or didn’t achieve. But we don’t work alone, we are a team. So, who or what guided us? We should tell! After the epic battle, which treasures or bounties have we achieved? Finally, our heroes have to level-up. What would you improve from your experience? Each participant should try to tell it in an epic way to the rest of the team.

Ada Lovelace, Warrior

We are geeks and we love fantasy themes, so here goes another one. We get in the shoes of warrior Ada Lovelace, relentless fighter who will be with us at every stage of the sprints and will represent the effort of every team member. The goal of this dynamic is that everyone expresses themselves in a more individual manner. We will identify our weaknesses and strengths. We will also try to share what we would improve about ourselves and what support we have received.

To become better warriors for the next sprint we will finish the session applying actions to mitigate our weaknesses. We are aware that these sessions can be hard and usually find us tired so it is important to try to make them fun. We hope these ideas are useful for you and your team!

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