Luke Skywalker has vanished… A Star Wars Agile Retrospective

Theme-based agile retrospectives are a great way to get people talking about how they feel things are going in their team. In this guest blog, David Shaykewich describes how he has been doing retrospectives using the many moods and faces of Han Solo from the Star Wars movie The Force Awakens to help teams to reflect on their feelings.

The Force Awakens

While the opening scroll to The Force Awakens was soaring across movie theatre screens in early 2016, I was preparing to PM and scrum master a massive, multi-year software development project at the University of Victoria. The project would involve front- and back-end developers, information architects, business analysts, and a functional (i.e., non-technical) product owner.

As we wrapped up the first development sprint, I considered my retrospective activity options for the team who had just moved into a new, common workspace with teammates they had only just met; and for a product owner who had never worked on a software development project (let alone inhabited a room with a herd of software developers).  I was certain there were mixed and varied feelings amongst the group, and it was best to get them out in the open and to begin to build a sense of empathy and team in the group.

Inspired by The Force Awakens’ release and a developer’s often-sported, classic Star Wars logo t-shirt, I had my retro theme nailed down, but not the activity.  So, I set about finding some SW imagery for my stage-setting slide deck: a Death Star under construction, Yoda mounted as backpack, the many moods of Darth Vader…

Many moods, eh?  It was Han Solo who truly had the many moods in the imagery I was finding.  I’d figured out my activity.

The many faces of Han Solo

The reveal

I collected about a dozen Han Solo images: from cocky to cornered to confused to carbonited.  The images showed a range of situations and emotions Han encountered in his many adventures.

One-by-one I revealed the images using my mad Powerpoint animation skills.

The invitation

I asked the team to reflect and share: During our first sprint as a team, which Han Solo did you most relate to?

The discussion

Each participant was asked to relate situations/scenarios and/or their experiences and feelings during the sprint with one or more of the photos.  After sharing, other team members related and discussed.

Why it works

I’ve used this idea a few times with different groups, and found it to be really valuable in a few ways:

  • *Everyone* (especially on a software development team) has seen Star Wars and the introduction through a slow reveal of each image in the collage puts everyone at ease and puts smiles on their faces – especially for those who are nervous, because they’re sitting in their first retrospective meeting ever.
  • The variety of Han Solo imagery actually aligns with the range of feelings that are present at the end of a sprint – from nervous anticipation to befuddlement to pride to having a literal fire lit under your butt.  It opens up conversation and builds shared empathy through relating to teammates’ apprehensions, pressures, and celebrations.
  • There’s some great Han Solo imagery, not least due to plethora of that character’s screen time, but others work well too.  Colleagues have performed the same exercise with much success using photos of Jack Sparrow, from The Pirates of the Caribbean.  Depending on your crowd, you could try Indiana Jones, Shrek, even Michael Corleone.

Build a shared sense of ownership for the product and empathy for the people and the Force will be with you… always.

David Shaykewich is the Manager of DevOps for BCcampus, an institution that provides teaching, learning, educational technology and open education support to the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia.  Dave’s background includes web development, project management and scrum mastering Agile software development teams.

Theme-based Agile Retrospectives

Thank you David for sharing your experiences in this guest post from doing retrospectives using the many moods and faces of Han Solo. The theme-based approach that you are using is a great way to encourage people to talk about their feelings. And, as you mentioned, everybody knows Star Wars, so it’s a great metaphor.

David already mentioned Pirates of the Carribean; there’s the Many Faces of Jack Sparrow exercise described by Corey Scholefield and Selina McGinnis that you can also use for a theme-based retrospective. I’ve done this exercise many times, it’s a fun way to do a retrospective where you want everyone to be involved.

My first book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives also provides a theme-based retrospective approach: The Car Brand. This exercise by my co-author Luis Gonçalves starts by asking “If you think about this iteration as a car brand, which brand would you choose?” It’s a great exercise to get teams to discuss what’s important to them.

Often used as an opening exercise in a retrospective, a one-word retrospective is another technique to get feelings out in the open. Where the approach sounds easy, dealing with whatever comes up in the retrospective often calls for strong facilitation skills. Nevertheless, it’s an exercise that I often use and teach in my workshops.

Thanks you again David for inspiring us with this Star Wars theme-based agile retrospective!

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