On Retrospectives: Part 1

Retrospectives are team learning ceremonies and have the potential to create genuine team learning. Yet, I often notice that even after a great Retrospective, the team often forgets about the answer to question #3, “What do we want to change?” Jeff Sutherland once coached me in this and told me to focus the team on ONE and only ONE thing to change, so they have a better chance of actually remembering, focusing on it, and doing something about it. Since then I have used this technique to very good effect when coaching agile teams.

Another good technique is:  take pictures of everything. Usually in a retro we answer the three questions “What is going well?”, “What is going badly?” and “What do we want to change?”. Usually sticky noted and sharpies are used to get these items generated. Taking picture of the sticky notes-and-votes (the votes with dots) is a good way for the Scrum Master to recall what happened and remind the team.

I like to see the team to put up a poster of the #1 thing that needs changing. This visual management artifact makes it real that a) We had this conversation b) We committed to the act of doing something and c) We all know where we are with respect to this item we SAID we intend to change. Consider prompting the team to create a poster and put it up on the wall (in a prominent place) for the entire Sprint. That makes it real.

This next picture below depicts the act of deciding on that one thing you may eventually depict in a poster:


Question #3, "What do we want to change?". We used voting dots to get to one item.


This is the RESULT of the retro, the decision on what to change.

The above figure show 2 columns. Each column is an topic, with multiple notes from earlier. The notes in a column are related and come from the answers to retro question #2, “What’s not working?”. These have been voted on and the top two are depicted: changes to team composition and the pulling of people from the Sprint work during the Sprint. This team is experiencing both. As facilitator, I guided them to identify these top two items. Then I placed a blank sticky note under each column to receive votes. I gave each team member one (red-heart) sticker each, and asked them to place a vote on which of the 2 columns mattered most to them, in terms of what to change.

We came out of this retro with the decision that the team wants to address the issue of authority outside of the team making changes to team composition constantly.

Remembering to Remember

OK, now assume teh team is in the next Sprint and is doing a remarkable job of working on the one thing, that one impediment that they want to change. fix, edit, re-factor, etc. They do a good job, and now we are doing another retrospective at the end of this Sprint.

As facilitator of that meeting, it is a good idea to recall and re-depict the OTHER items that were candidates for change. By this I mean, the #2, #3, #4 candidate items etc from the LAST retro. Look at those as a start for the 3rd question “What do we want to change?”

By bringing these items back to full attention, the team recalls what other items may still be in the way, from 1 retrospective ago. This important sentiment is often lost from retro to retro, Sprint to Sprint.


In general, retrospectives are the single best source of substantial team learning. How much learning the team actually gets is a function of many factors related to team-recall and team-remembering. As the facilitator of retrospectives, keep this in mind. Be mindful for the team. Remember, and help them remember. This post provides some techniques. They are summarized below:

1. Come out with ONE thing to change, not many things. Use dot-voting to get the team to choose the one item. Structure the voting to yield ONE and only ONE item. As facilitator, steer them towards ONE thing.

2. Take pictures of everything on the wall if you are the facilitator. Use these images to help yourself remind the team of what it says it wants.

3. Coming out of the retro, suggest that the team make a poster that depicts the one thing they are committed to changing. Consider making this a group activity during the end of the retro.

4. In your current retro, recall and remind the team about the other candidate-items-for-change that came up at the last retro. Use the pictures and notes you kept and show the team these artifacts as you answer teh 3rd question “What do we want to change?”

I have experience doing Agile coaching that dates back to 2008. If you like this post and want to see more like it, leave a comment to that effect and I’ll compose another with more content on retrospectives. I have a few other tips you may find useful.