Recently, I was at an Agility Day in New Jersey for my company. During this day of fun and learning, we listened to some presentations, discussed some challenges, and participated in an Open Space where we built a marketplace for topics and conversations. This way of structuring an “un-conference” makes it a dynamic and learner-centric experience where the participants decide on the topics that are important to them.
One of my fellow participants offered a topic entitled “Sprint Retrospectives: All I Hear is Crickets”. This made me think about how retrospectives (which is a Scrum event) can become routine and, even worse, boring. In my several years as an agile coach, trainer, Scrum Master, and consultant I have seen my share of challenging, dull and boring retrospectives. However, I have also seen (and facilitated) dynamic, energizing and fun retrospectives as well. So I offered my own topic “Retrospectives Can Be Fun” to the marketplace for the Open Space. We merged our two topics and then I facilitated the 30-minute conversation with about 15 people.
We spoke about how easily retrospectives can become boring and painful. After this, I facilitated some mini-versions of dynamic, interactive, and playful examples of retrospectives. Here are some that we did, and others that I have found to be fantastic!
Retrospective: Doodle Your Thoughts
This one is something that I just made up recently, but it is probably similar to other activities. Basically, each person creates a doodle using the Visual Alphabet by Sunni Brown (such as lines, spirals, and clouds) to simply depict how they are felling based on the last period of time. This can be done by just showing the doodles, or it can be accomplished with each person describing their creations. You can read my description of how to do this at “Doodle Your Thoughts” – PaulHeidema.com!
PRO TIP: Remove any fear by describing this exercise as simple and fun – it doesn’t require “artistic talent” to create a doodle, just some imagination and effort.
Retrospective: Strike a Pose
Facilitating this activity is easy and fun – another one that I created on the spot. Explain to the group that each person will have 30 seconds to think about how they are feeling about this last Sprint. Then they will physically pose to show everyone else. Options for this activity include: just posing and allowing each other to see it; showing the pose and then describing how this pose connects to the Sprint; posing and then everyone else trying to guess the pose; and observing each pose and then as a group trying to get to a common understanding of how the group feels. Read my post on how to conduct your very own Strike a Pose retrospective.
PRO TIP: As the facilitator, make sure that you are playful and light when describing this activity. Also remember to show your pose early during the demonstration period so that others will be encouraged to participate.
Retrospective: Walk for Progress, Rise for Happiness
Being with this group inspired me to create yet another exercise where each person moves to show how much the team accomplished. And it also shows the positivity felt by each person. Explain to the group to start on the same line together. Then we will walk as far as we like away from the line to show the progress that the group made during the Sprint. Once we reach that spot, each of us will also stand up tall to represent how happy we are about the Sprint or go low as we want to show how unhappy we are about the Sprint. Feel free to ask questions to the group or individuals to share why they chose their distance and height.
PRO TIP: Once each person does the activity, identify differences in the group — be it one person standing on a chair to represent supreme happiness or someone lying on the line in the fetal position.
This fine exercise comes to us care of Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd where I learned how to do it in one of their dynamic Agile Coaching courses. As the facilitator, place a center point in the space (an “x” of tape works well) and tell the group that you will be sharing a series of statements. Each person is to consider how true each statement is for themselves and move closer to the center spot for highly truthful (strong agreement) or move farther away from the center spot for least truthful (strong disagreement). After each statement and when all the participants have moved, then ask for some people to share their thoughts. Do as many rounds as you like to dig into and get a pulse on how the group feels about various topics.
PRO TIP: To maximize participation, get people to share to the whole group and allow for small groups to discuss their thoughts.
Retrospective: Retrospective Cookies
This great activity combines questions with food – always a good combination. And this was created by Adam Weisbart, who is quite creative with humour and exercises. To do the activity with actual cookies, order them from Adam. Or buy fortune cookies from an Asian Grocery Store and then place questions inside each of them. The format is simple, go somewhere where the group can be more relaxed and be able to eat, and then get each person to get a fortune cookie and then read the question aloud. The group can continue for as long as they like.
PRO TIP: Prepare for this activity by identifying questions that would be beneficial for the group to discuss but have not been discussed yet. And choose a place that the group would find relaxing and more casual then their normal work space.
Resources to Improve Your Retrospectives
There are plenty of great books, articles, videos and even classes that one can digest to improve the Sprint Retrospectives or any reflection activity for a team or project. Here are some on my favourites…
- Tasty Cupcakes (website): full of creative, unique, and fun activities to lighten and bring much-needed energy to retrospectives
- Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen (book): plenty of exercises to enlighten even a seasoned facilitator, and considered by many as “The Retrospective Resource”
- Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play by Luke Hohmann (book): super fun and dynamic activities to bring out the creativity of a group
- Web Whiteboard (ONLINE tool): a virtual whiteboard that can be easily used by distributed teams
- Idea Boardz (ONLINE tool): this virtual space has templates for various types of retrospectives, including Six Thinking Hats; Starfish; and Pros and Cons
Any More Recommended Resources for Retrospectives?
If any of you have great resources that others can read or learn please let me know and I will add them to this section.
Have a great week and I hope that each of you continues to experiment, learn and innovate with your colleagues and teams so each of us can fulfill our wonderful potential and aid the world to become an awesome place for all, one retrospective at a time.
Paul J. Heidema