Ideas to make your retrospective more fun

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The sprint retrospective is held at the end of every sprint and follows the review meeting. The idea behind the retros is to discuss what went well, what went wrong, and how to make improvements in the next sprint.
Retrospective meetings have their foundations in theory of Agile methods.

Basics of Retrospective

While the sprint review is about discussing the product itself, the retrospective looks at how the team was building it.
The retrospective meetings give the team an opportunity to evaluate the results and identify areas that can be perfected.

Challenges of Retrospective

It might seem that the format of the meeting is very simple so it would not require some special skills to hold it but, actually, there are challenges that retrospective facilitators conducting a retrospective meeting come across quite often:

  • The team is not responsive
  • The team is not willing to participate
  • The team focuses on irrelevant topics
  • The distributed teams lose interest to the meeting quickly
  • The retrospectives do not bring any changes.

Apparently, most of the challenges pertain to boredom and lack of activities during the meeting.
Meanwhile, conducting engaging and consistent retrospectives can bring the eye-opening results and lead to better quality of work, reduce team turnover and unlock productivity.

Are there ways to liven up retros and make them more of interest? Yes, but they will work best if applied relevantly, which means that the different stages of retrospective require different types of activity.

The stages of the meeting look as follows.

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To explore the ideas of how to make a retro more fun, let us see what activities can be applied at each of the stages.
Prior to the meeting, make sure that team members have the suitable toolkit to write on and present their ideas.

Fun Retrospective Activities: Checklist for Each Stage

Initially, a facilitator sets the stage by explaining the agenda and introducing a goal of the meeting. It will create the proper framework, tunnel the team vision and weed out the unnecessary detail.
To make things easier, a goal should be kept shortened to 1-2 sentences.

In addition, it is advisable to start with some ‘ice-breaking’ exercise like ‘weather report’ activity that would let the team feel more at ease. It is simple and suits any team size.

Weather Report

Participants mark their mood by drawing some weather icon. The idea is to reflect their current feelings about the sprint on a flipchart on the whiteboard or a retrospective board.

The other option is to prepare a flipchart with the icons of lightning, sunshine, rain, clouds, snow, etc. Each participant marks their mood on the board.

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If you do not want to overload this stage with visuals, you can simply ask a question: ‘Does today’s weather reflect your feeling about the sprint?’ The expected answers can range from ‘Yes, perfectly reflects’ to ‘It is totally opposite to what I feel’. It will warm up the participants and put them at ease while giving the facilitator the general impression of team’s mindframe.

What makes this idea working: Being clear with the goal of the meeting and finding the way to break the ice to start a team discussion make the participants open-minded and create the collaborative environment.

The next stage is about gathering data on the sprint.
One of the most important things about retrospective meetings is keeping the attention of the team members on the agenda. The solution that can bring tangible results is to incorporate games into the meeting. The most popular games and activities at this stage are:

Car Exercise/Car Brand Exercise

To do this exercise, you can draw on the whiteboard or prepare the visuals in advance.

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The activity is especially good for facilitating the dynamic relations inside the team. First, explain what questions are to be addressed (what went well, what went wrong, what could be improved), and then ask each team member to pick one car brand for describing the sprint (for example, ‘the sprint went like Maserati’). It gives some insights into what people expected and what reality felt for each individual. The next step is to ask what sprint lacked for being described as the fastest car. You will be able to identify the problems easily and find the respective solutions.

Sailboat Exercise

All you need for doing this exercise is a whiteboard.

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Draw the boat that represents a team. Offer the team members to add clouds to the picture. The clouds must represent problems: the number of clouds and their size will signal of the sprint perception. It will make the process of gathering data fun and easy. Welcome team members on their effort to give detail while adding their ‘clouds’.
The goal of this activity is to understand the vision of the sprint that the particular team has.

Starfish Exercise

This exercise is done on the board to help categorize the data input.

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Draw a circle and divide it into five parts. Give a title to each segment for gathering information on what:

  • to initiate in the future
  • to terminate
  • to continue doing
  • to change
  • to reduce.

For each segment there must be a specific question that will help generate clear statements/replies:

  • What should we start doing to improve the performance?
  • What should we stop doing to unlock new opportunities?
  • What should we stick to doing (and why it looks helpful for the team)?
  • What should we change to bring better solutions?
  • What should we reduce spending time on?

It is crucial that each team member had the chance to express their opinion.
It helps define shared goals and find the agreement on the vision of workflow in the next sprint.

What makes these ideas working: Preparing relevant activities (the main goal is to engage all the participants) enables you to gather the valuable information on what exactly the team sees as the positive outcome of the sprint, and what problems they want to make vocal.

To conduct an engaging meeting, at the next stage of the retrospective, a facilitator and the team get the insights on the identified problems by applying data gathered before.

5 Whys Exercise

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The 5 Whys activity is a great method to generate insights, create accountability on the results and drill down to an issue by re-asking ‘why’. You are supposed to get down to the core of the problem at the fifth ‘why’.
This type of activity helps identify what caused the problem in the first place. Spotting the root of the problem means that you paved the way to searching for the optimal solution.

What makes this idea working: For the insightful view, 5 whys activity serves the best as, being dynamic, it helps the team to maintain the focus on the topic.

The next stage of retro is about identifying the area that needs to be improved.
There is a variety of activities a facilitator can apply at this stage. One of the most effective ways is to map the process with drawing a problem solving tree.

**Problem Solving Tree Exercise **

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The trunk of the tree will present one particular problem.
To offer the solutions, the team members draw branches. In case the solutions require some complex implementation, the team add leaves with the respective description. The offered solutions must be connected ‘to grow’ the branches in the proper order: a facilitator watches that the branches are leveled accordingly.

What makes this idea working: This activity assists not only in identifying the area of improvement but introduces the structured approach to dealing with the problem.

Closing is a very important stage because the sprint being the cycle, makes the retrospective simultaneously the end and the beginning.

About the author: This is a guest post by the folks at time tracker TMetric. They know a lot about time tracking, go check them out.

Ideas to make your retrospective more fun
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