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What is the ‘go to’ exercise for a sprint retrospective?

What is the ‘go to’ exercise for a sprint retrospective?

It used to be ‘Mad | Sad | Glad’.

Many moons ago when I first started my practice, Jean Tabaka and Sallyann Freudenberg did a great job of introducing us to a whole bunch of retrospective exercises, but I have consistently found that most scrum masters use the ‘Mad | Sad | Glad’ exercise when facilitating a sprint retrospective.

A very simple exercises consisting of 3 different colour post-it notes and a wall separated into 3 areas.

  • What makes you mad? Write that down and place the post it note in that section.
  • What makes you sad? Write that down and place the post it note in that section.
  • What makes you glad? Write that down and place the post it note in that section.

Fairly simple, straightforward, and quick to facilitate.

We would discover affinities, talk about the elements raised on the post it notes, and have a conversation about what could be done to improve.

It is a great exercise but it becomes a problem if that is all that scrum masters and agile coaches do.

People aren’t challenged through the exercise if they know what is coming. People don’t think deeply about the issues and look to contribute in meaningful ways if they are doing the same exercise week in and week out.

If people anticipate what is going to happen in the sprint retrospective, you are not going to get the best out of the event. Some may choose to engage whilst others simply go through the motions.

These days I hear about the 4 Ls as a popular exercise.

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you lack?
  • What did you loathe?
  • What did you love?

If it starts with L you could probably insert the word that best works for you.

Again, scrum masters and agile coaches get trapped in using the same exercise over and over again which can prove unhelpful in the long term.

I think the point of a sprint retrospective is to create exercises that constantly challenge the team and provide an interesting, engaging and entertaining way to explore all avenues. If you come across a great retrospective exercise, that is great, just don’t use it too often or it loses its impact.

There is a great book, Coaching Agile Teams by Lyssa Adkins, that provides a range of great sprint retrospective exercises that you could run. A quick search on the internet will also provide you with a whole host of creative, entertaining and engaging retrospective exercises you can run.

Take the time to explore each of those potential exercises and integrate them into your sprint retrospectives. Identify what works for your team and look to create more exercises that contain the elements that most engage the team.

I have run retrospectives with logical, left-brain thinkers that bring art and creativity into the mix, which people absolutely loved, and I have done the opposite with right-brain teams.

I don’t think there should be a ‘go to’ sprint retrospective for a scrum master, instead, I think there should be a series of great retrospective exercises in the arsenal.

Take the time beforehand to identify what you are hoping to achieve and what outcomes would be a great sign of engagement and success. Immediately following the retrospective, reflect on how it went and what was achieved.

  • Did you achieve the outcomes you were hoping for?
  • Which elements resonated with the team, and which fell flat?
  • What did you discover by running this exercise?
  • How was this retrospective different from the last one, and is that an improvement?

Really take the time to understand whether your exercise produced the results you were hoping for and how you could improve on that experience for the team. Which elements illicit an unexpected or unanticipated response from individuals and which allowed the exercise to flow organically?

I would also recommend that you grow your network amongst other agile coaches and scrum masters to discover what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what you could extract from that to introduce to your team.

Invest time and effort researching what thought leaders and respected practitioners in your industry are doing and run experiments in your own team environment.

Try not to pull the same rabbit out of the hat with each sprint retrospective. It loses it’s impact and becomes a little tedious for people when they are running through the same exercise each sprint.

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