Designing Valuable Agile Retrospectives

Designing Valuable Agile RetrospectivesAs a retrospective facilitator it’s important to have a toolbox of retrospective exercises which you can use to design a retrospective. Before having a retrospective meeting, you want to prepare yourself by considering which exercises would be most suitable. That depends on the team, the situation at hand, and on what the team would like to work on. Here are some tips for designing valuable agile retrospectives that help addressing specific situations.

Retrospectives are used to improve continuously, thereby helping your teams and the organization to become more agile and lean. My suggestion is to do them at least every iteration. Maybe even ofter, when you see opportunities for teams to learn and take action.

When you are doing many retrospectives there’s a risk that teams get bored when they are always done in a similar way. A solution to this is to introduce variation using different retrospective exercises. This is where knowing how to design retrospectives can help you.

 Adressing a specific situation with a retrospective

As a retrospective facilitator you want to design a retrospective meeting that delivers business value and benefits for a team. Such a retrospective should match with the situation that a team is having.

Here are some examples showing how to pick a retrospective exercise that addresses a specific situation that teams can experience:

If there is a big impediment that the team needs to solve, then you can do a five times why retrospective with root cause analysis to understand it and define effective actions. The team would benefit by preventing the problem from re-occuring and hampering their progress.

When the team’s iteration was a big success you can explore the strengths that team members already have and use those to further improve your team, enabling them to deliver more value.

If something is disrupting your team’s atmosphere and you can’t get a hold of it a one-word retrospective could help to discuss how people feel about things. The team would benefit with better collaboration and increased happiness doing their work.

When the team has difficulty dealing with a problem due to differences in team member’s views you can do a constellation retrospective. It provides insight in how team members percieve the problem, visualizes the system, and helps to create a shared understanding for the team.


These examples show you how you can define a valuable retrospective exercise for your team given the situation at hand. When you recognize one of these situations you can try the exercise that is mentioned.

Develop your own retrospective toolbox!

Our advice to retrospective facilitators is to learn many different retrospective exercises. The best way to learn them is by doing them. Practice an exercise, reflect how it went, learn, and improve yourself. You may need a specific exercise one day, so make sure that you are prepared!

The book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives provides you many different retrospective exercises that you can use to design retrospectives. It’s a toolbox which helps you to facilitate retrospectives that deliver more benefits to the teams that you work with.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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