5 Activities to Improve Your Retrospective Meeting

The retrospective meeting is one of the most important scrum events. A team can understand their strengths and weaknesses, discuss their relationships between each other, and set goals for improvement beginning with the next sprint. You can find tons of different information on how to conduct retrospective meeting: who should participate, what’s the order of discussions, what to do with conclusions made during the meeting, etc. But the event itself can remain uninformative and boring if not done well. So I’d like to share 5 ways to spend this couple of hours with your team. These activities and others can be found on a great site called Fun Retrospectives and can easily be mixed with each other within one meeting. It’ll make the retrospective more interesting and more productive. So let’s get started!

1: Marginal Gains

Sometimes during the meeting a team sets unclear massive goals they simply don’t understand how to reach. The main purpose of this retrospective activity is to make a team think of things that they can easily improve fast and without significant efforts, so called ‘quick wins’. Conducting this activity, your team will be able to improve themselves by short, but steady steps.

The main idea of Marginal Gains activity was revealed by Dave Brailsford: “It’s very difficult to improve 1 thing by 100%. It’s much easier to improve 100 things by 1% for the same effect.”

Here’s how you would run this activity:

  1. Describe so called 100 things by 1% improvement idea to your team, explaining the main benefit of using it and encourage them to think of small improvements.
  2. Explain what is meant by ‘quick wins’: “A quick win is a small improvement that we can implement really quickly without significant effort and expenses.”
  3. Ask each team member to think of the first ‘quick win’ things that came to their mind. Ask them to write their ideas down on separate cards.
  4. Gather all cards and discuss them with the team. Determine which quick wins can be done within the next sprint and discuss them with the team. That’s it, we’re done!

My experience with this activity is that it is really easy to explain. I literally spent a couple of minutes describing it to my team on one of my projects. Then we just started brainstorming for several minutes, creating different cards and around 15 minutes discussing them. Spending just 15 minutes on this activity, we found several pretty annoying holes in the workflow that were eating a lot of our time and nerves. We created several tasks, added them to the next sprint and after we had done them, we realized how we had sped up the process. I’d definitely recommend every Scrum Master try this activity.

2: 360 degrees appreciation

The 360 degrees appreciation is a pretty simple activity. The main idea is to gather positive feedback for each team member to increase team morale and improve relationships between team members.

Here’s what you’re going to do:

  1. Give paper and pen to each team member.
  2. Ask participants to write down what he/she appreciates about each other participant (but don’t make it last too long; 2 minutes per each participant is okay).
  3. When the team is done, ask them to form to a circle.
  4. Ask one participant to stand in the center of this circle.
  5. Each team member in the circle should read his/her appreciation card to the participant in the center (complete the 360 degrees).
  6. Change the participant in the center of circle until everyone has received feedback.

We have found that sometimes it’s pretty hard to pull out feedback from team members and this appreciation activity is aimed at stimulating the team to share their feedback. It helped us to establish pretty strong relationships within the team, where team members hadn’t had a chance to work with each other before. This activity made them feel relaxed and kinder towards each other. All the walls were broken and nothing was distracting the team from their beloved work! :)

3: Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon is an easy and demonstrative activity that helps a team to realize what makes them move faster and what really slows them down.

Running the activity:

  1. Draw a hot air balloon on the board. Don’t be shy – draw a big one. Just like this:
  2. Ask the team to think of things that, in their opinion, slow them down or speed up the development process.
  3. Ask them to write their thoughts on cards.
  4. Place the cards on a drawing:
  5. Cards that make you go higher and faster are to be placed at the balloon itself
  6. Cards that slow you down should be placed at the gondola, just like weights.
  7. Discuss the cards.

As the previous ones, this activity is really easy to try and doesn’t require any specific skillset. But as a result, you can find out those ‘weights’ that really slow down your team.

4: Pleasure and Gain

This activity is a very effective way to gather the team’s feedback. The basis of it is an X-Y graph. The X axis is called pleasure and shows pleasure level (or dissatisfaction). The Y axis is called gain and shows how helpful the card (or useless) is for the development process. The magic quadrant is an area on the graph, where team member add cards that bring him/her pleasure and gain to the development process. So it should look like this:

Here’s what to do:

1.Draw the graph.

2.Team members create cards.

3.Instruct the participants to add notes to the graph:

  •         Let them ask themselves when they think about the card:
  •         Are they getting pleasure or feel pain for doing what’s described in a card?
  •         How much gain or loss the project gets from what’s described in a card?
  1. Ask them to place cards on the graph according to how they feel about it.
  2. Discuss with the team what could be done so that each item would move towards the magic quadrant.

Trying this activity on my project, we found several important benefits of using it:

  • We had a great time discussing the magic quadrant items. Everyone loves them!
  • We also defined those activities that hadn’t brought neither gain nor pleasure to the project.
  • We also discussed those items that bring gain to the project, but are not pleasant enough and defined how we could make them more pleasant.
  • At the end, we got rid of items we love but that didn’t bring any benefit to the development process.

The CAPT Activity

Here’s another activity based on a graph that looks interesting and we plan to try soon. I’ve included it because it looks interesting. The graph itself looks like this:

The main idea is to understand the team’s confidence on different aspects of the development process.

Here’s how we’re going to do this:

  1. Draw the graph on a board.

Confident = I was sure about it (the higher the card the more confident card owner felt)

Apprehensive = I wasn’t sure about it (the lower the less sure a card owner felt)

Tech = The card is related to tools and technology

People = The card is related to people and their interactions

  1. Ask the team to put their cards on the graph.
  2. Initialize cards discussions.

We haven’t tried this activity yet, so if any of the readers already have had experience with this, add a comment on how it went. I’m really curious on this one.