Sprint Retrospective Techniques

Note: since writing this post I have come up with a new sprint retrospective technique called Quartering.

Note 2: you can find even more simple and effective sprint retrospective techniques in my follow up posts Sprint Retrospective Techniques 2 & Sprint Retropective Techniques 3.

When interviewing prospective Scrum Masters there are a number of questions I ask them about their retrospectives. First of all I ask if they hold retrospectives with their team after each sprint. I then ask how they run their retrospectives. Finally I ask if they vary how they run their retrospectives. The answers to these questions are one gauge I use to measure the the candidate Scrum Master’s level of experience. I focus so much on retrospectives because how they are run is crucial if a Scrum team is to function efficiently.

Holding retrospectives is vital to Scrum teams who are looking to continuously improve (and a Scrum team that is not looking to continuously improve isn’t worthy of being called a Scrum team). Holding retrospectives after every sprint is a must if a team is to maintain its pace of improvement. Having a technique for running retrospectives is important for imposing a structure on the team’s discussion. However, having many varied techniques is essential to keep the exercise interesting for the team and to prevent great ideas for improvements from drying up. Retrospectives that become staid are little better than not holding them at all.

I have encountered several retrospective techniques over my time as a Scrum Master. Here are three simple techniques which I find work well.

(each technique requires the following resources: whiteboard, white board markers and stickies/post-it notes).

Technique 1 – The Wheel (also known as the Starfish)

  1. Draw a large circle on a whiteboard and divide it into five equal segments
  2. Label each segment ‘Start’, ‘Stop’, ‘Keep Doing’, ‘More Of’, ‘Less Of’
  3. For each segment pose the following questions to the team:
    • What can we start doing that will speed the team’s progress?
    • What can we stop doing that hinders the team’s progress?
    • What can we keep doing to do that is currently helping the team’s progress?
    • What is currently aiding the team’s progress and we can do more of?
    • What is currently impeding the team’s progress and we can do less of?
  4. Encourage the team to place stickies with ideas in each segment until everyone has posted all of their ideas
  5. Erase the wheel and have the team group similar ideas together. Note that the same idea may have been expressed in opposite segments but these should still be grouped together
  6. Discuss each grouping as a team including any corrective actions

The steps are illustrated in the images below:

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Technique 2 – The Sail Boat (Or speed boat. Or any kind of boat)

  1. Draw a boat on a white board. Include the following details:
    • Sails or engines  – these represent the things that are pushing the team forward towards their goals
    • Anchors – these represent the things that are impeding the team from reaching their goals
  2. Explain the metaphors to the team and encourage them to place stickies with their ideas for each of them on appropriate area of the drawing
  3. Wait until everyone has posted all of their ideas
  4. Have the team group similar ideas together
  5. Discuss each grouping as a team including any corrective actions going forward

The pictures below show a couple of retrospective boats:

sail-boat

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Technique 3 – Mad Sad Glad

  1. Divide the board into three areas labelled:
    • Mad – frustrations, things that have annoyed the team and/or have wasted a lot of time
    • Sad – disappointments, things that have not worked out as well as was hoped
    • Glad – pleasures, things that have made the team happy
  2. Explain the meanings of the headings to the team and encourage them to place stickies with their ideas for each of them under each heading
  3. Wait until everyone has posted all of their ideas
  4. Have the team group similar ideas together
  5. Discuss each grouping as a team identifying any corrective actions

The pictures below illustrate the technique:

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mad sad glad after

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What Are the Techniques Good For?

So that describes the process for each of the techniques. You probably noticed that the techniques are broadly similar. Each divides the whiteboard into areas for different categories of ideas. The team is then invited to place their ideas into each category. The team then groups similar ideas together. Finally the team goes through each grouping identifying corrective actions.

So why do I use these particular techniques? What is good about them? There are a few reasons.

I like all of these techniques because they are simple. They can be explained to a team very quickly. They require only basic materials. They can proceed from start to finish in well under an hour and you still end up with a good set of corrective actions.

All of the techniques encourage the entire team to participate. Each team member can place their own ideas on the board with equal weight. If instead ideas came forth via a discussion more vocal team members could take over while shyer team members would withdraw. Where there is no initial discussion this cannot happen and the team benefits from everyone’s input.

The grouping exercise is also key because the team members do it not the Scrum Master. They are again participating directly and putting their own stamp on the exercise by deciding which ideas are related. Also with the grouping in place corrective actions become easier to identify and prioritise. If, for example, there are double the number of stickies for one grouping as opposed to another then it is obvious to all that the first grouping probably represents the more pressing issue.

As the team is so involved in the retrospective from start to finish they get a justified feeling of ownership over the process and any corrective actions that are identified.

With these techniques the Scrum Master’s job is also easier. They have a structure for their retrospectives and do not have to do all of the work in the session. The Scrum Master simply keeps the process moving perhaps using improvisations. For example, when picking the next grouping to discuss they may ask the team to dot vote for the most important groupings or ask a team member to pick what is most important to them. Such minor changes are important to keep even varying retrospective techniques fresh.

Those are the similarities. It is important to note that there are also differences between the techniques. The differing categories between each technique are key. They lead to different types of ideas being raised as they each make teams think in a different way.

The Sail Boat, for example, is very simple. What is helping us? What isn’t helping us? However, you can elaborate on the process. I like to add rocks to represent risks that could ‘sink the project’. You could also add a sun to represent ideas for the team’s hopes.

The Wheel takes the core idea of the sail boat’s sails and anchors further. It not only asks what is making the team faster or slower but also goes into more granular detail about what the team should start/stop, do more of/less of or simply continue doing as before.

My personal favourite is Mad Sad Glad. The categories do not focus on the back and white of team productivity but instead look at the types of emotions the team experienced over the sprint. This can elicit some very interesting ideas. I especially like the distinction between Mad and Sad. Both are obviously negative but each can attract quite different issues from a team.

The Mad Sad Glad technique can also be extended. For example, I sometimes add a fourth category labelled ‘Scared‘ where the team can post the things that they fear. For instance, the team may fear that they will not make a crucial delivery.

So on the face of it the techniques are similar. However, they elicit different types of feedback and different corrective actions. They also inject a bit if fun into retrospectives. Finally with the application of many techniques retrospectives do not become boring affairs and the team’s ideas for improvements do not dry up.

So now that the team is armed with corrective actions what do they do with them? I will cover this topic in a future post.

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11 Comments on “Sprint Retrospective Techniques”


  1. […] https://waynedgrant.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/sprint-retrospective-techniques/ Share this:TwitterFacebookVind ik leuk:LikeWees de eerste die dit leuk vindt. […]

  2. Luke Hohmann Says:

    Nice post. The “Sail Boat” technique listed is a known variation of the Innovation Game® Speed Boat. You can find online versions of this game that you can play with distributed teams at http://www.innovationgames.com/speed-boat.


  3. […] Once the conversation is restarted, there are a number of activities that can be leveraged to help direct the conversation or drive better results. While an Innovative Games specialist can help with additional details and ideas, here are a few to get you started: […]

  4. shubh Says:

    Interesting one!!

    Will surely implement the Mad/ Sad/ Glad idea.. Simple and ofcourse captures the emotion of people for the sprint.

    Great going..

  5. Cruz Says:

    I just used Mad/Sad/Glad yesterday. Response was better than expected. Although given that this was the first time we were doing it we did a small change and due to not having proper materials, instead of using sticky notes the Scrum Master was taking the notes in a whiteboard still I think for the next one we’ll try the sticky notes and see which one works best.


  6. […] Our retrospective was conducted using the analogy of a boat. The “wind in our sails” was things pushing us towards our goal and the “sea anchors” were things that were slowing us down or impeding us from reaching our goals. I found this way of doing retrospectives really useful! HT to Wayne Grant! […]


  7. […] skipped. The third retrospective I decided to plan ahead and structure the meeting. I searched for sprint retrospective questions. There! Plenty of inspiration for effective sprint […]


  8. […] one. After searching the Internet for retrospective techniques, I decided to go for the technique the wheel. Very easy to set up and […]

  9. Madhava Rao Vandana Says:

    I specifically liked the START, STOP, CONTINUE. I also wanted ‘Do More of’ and ‘Do less of’ included as well in my framework. But When I thought about it I was not completely convinced that Do More of and Do less of are completely different from CONTINUE to stand on their own as different categories, instead they are part of CONTINUE.

    Do More of: Team has seen value in the process/tasks and they want to CONTINUE and do more of it if possible
    Do Less of: Team has seen some value, but not as much. at the same time they do not want to STOP doing the task or following the process. however, they want to do less of it.

    Hence, I followed the following framework and it yielded good results by encouraging the discussion.

    START
    STOP
    CONTINUE ( As-Is, Do More of, Do Less of)


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