Agile retrospective exercise for a new team

RetrospectiveQuestionI regularly get questions on agile retrospectives, which I’m more than happy to answer. In this blog post I’ll discuss the question that I got from someone who attended one of my workshops on valuable agile retrospectives. He was planning a retrospective with a new team, and wanted my advice on which exercise to use and how to facilitate the retrospective.

The question that was asked by Nikos Raptis, Scrum Master & Developer at Scytl was:

Next week I have the challenge to facilitate a retrospective with 9 team members. It’s a new team … people know each other but now they are a Scrum team.

This is the first sprint and I know that probably many issues will come up.

I would like your hints about how to keep the meeting under control.
a) Which game should I choose?
b) How to prioritize the outputs for actions?
c) What should I say to indicate that we should stay focused and not go to wide because we are so many?

9 members is on the limit of a team so things must go smoothly but I never had such a big team to handle.

Nine people in a team is large, but doable. It needs strong facilitation skills to keep them together during the retrospective meeting, and to get them to agree on what to do first. As a facilitator you have to make clear that to take off they will have to become a team. This will take time, and effort from all of them, but it will be a worthwhile investment.

Retrospective Exercises for a new team

The possible exercises that I proposed to Nikos for this first retrospective with a new team are:

Sail boat, see our book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. It’s a great exercise for team building, for a team to agree upon their mission and decide what to do in the first iteration to get started.

Core Qualities, described in Exploring Strengths with Core Qualities. This exercise can be helpful for team members to get know the qualities that each of them has and is willing to contribute in the team. Since people know each other already they should be able to name qualities of the other team members.

Another exercise to explore the strengths that team members have is described in Using Solution Focused in a Strengths Based Retrospective. It’s somewhat similar to the core qualities exercise but can be harder to do as the team has not yet done any iteration together.

Wordles can also be a useful exercise. You can ask team members to mention words which describe what they consider to be important for the team, and after having collected those words into a wordle you discuss the words that pop up mostly to see what you can do to enable the team and get it started.

Results from the retrospective

Nikos decided to do a sailboat exercise. After doing the retrospective he came back to me to share his experiences:

The challenge increased because I was called to facilitate another team with 8 members of which 4 are remote. So I had to find a way to do the Sailboat. After some searching I found realtimeboard and I created the sailboat figure.

During the meeting I decided to go from left to right in the sailboat. I have set a timebox of ten minutes in each part to brainstorm:
a) Long Term Goals
b) Next Sprint Goals
c) Risks
d) Holding back things
e) Assets (for now its only Scrum and we had only one sprint)

After brainstorming we voted only on items in “Next Sprint Goals”and “Holding Back” in order to decide upon actions.  We kept 3 things to deal with from next sprint goals and 1 from holding back.

I think it was OK, although everyone realized that there are many things to be done.
But I told them we should think one step at a time. We cannot fix them all at once.

I like the sailboat exercise very much :-)!

Looks like the sailboat exercise worked out for him. It’s an easy yet powerful retrospective exercise, which makes it very suitable for new teams.

Regarding brainstorming, I have actually never time boxed it. The main reason is that I haven’t seen a need for that. I’ve never ran out of time with brainstorming. I just check with the attendees if they have more things that they want to bring up, and when things slow down I stop. A risk with time boxing is that it may pressure people and hinder their inspiration, hence I prefer not to use it with brainstorming.

I like it how Nikos prioritized before defining actions. This is something that I teach in my workshops, it’s a way to bring in focus early. It prevents that people come up with too many actions. But it is something that a facilitator needs to check with the attendees, which Nikos clearly did.

Four actions sounds doable for a sprint. Having a limited number of actions (I call that Vital Few Actions) helps the team to do those improvements that matter now. It makes the retrospectives more effective and valuable.

A big thanks to Nikos for sharing his experiences from doing this agile retrospective!

Need help with retrospectives?

My mission is to help teams all around the world to increase the value of their agile retrospectives. There’s the book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, the Retrospective Exercises Toolbox, workshops for Valuable Agile Retrospectives in Teams and for Increasing your Agility with Retrospectives and there are lots of blog posts on retrospectives. All these things help you to make your retrospectives valuable.

If you are planning a retrospective and are wondering how to do it or which exercise to use, then feel free to ask your agile retrospective question. I will answer your question to help you to make your retrospective valuable!

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.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thanks-a-mundo for the post. Fantastic.

  2. Quite interesting, I have been thinking to use the sailboat exericise to conduct a retro of a virtrual team of around 20 persons.(people from different CFT’s) who were working on a product deliverable which was deployed last weekend. Now I a asked to facilitate the retro. of the same deliverable. Since there are around 20 ppl so i am just wondering how it would go:)

    Will share my reviews after the retro.

    1. You can probably do the exercise as described in my book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. To do it with a remote team, you can use an online whiteboard tool like Lino or use a tool like Retrium (see the tools list on Retrospective Exercises. Alternatively, use a Google doc and a hangout or skype to discuss this and collect input.

      Does this help?

      And yes, please share your experiences!

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