A Better Retrospective

Thomas Christensen
5 min readNov 9, 2015

Inspect and Adapt (or die)

Doing an end-of-project retrospective, is an important part of the Scrum Inspect and Adopt doctrine. Learn from your mistakes or you are doomed to repeat them. So when I was planning the retrospective of an especially difficult project, I decided that something different was called for. Where was so much we could learn.

Same old, same old

The normal — be it company, project or sprint — retrospective at Reload! A/S goes a little something like this:

  1. Somebody draws three columns on the meeting room whiteboard with
  2. Positive / Negative / Suggestions
  3. Anybody with something to say, says it and the “driver” writes it in Pos or Neg
  4. Sometimes we find the photo of the whiteboard from the previous session and compare.
  5. When everybody is done, problems will lead to suggestions
  6. Suggestions are sometimes assigned to somebody
  7. Photo is takes of the whiteboard an put in google drive/yammer

This works quite well. It’s simple and effective. Except..

  • Stuff doesn’t always get done,
  • Sometimes we forget to publish the photo.
  • Focus is on the present, not the past (stuff is forgotten)
  • Not everybody participates. To easy to just sit back and watch.

Go Tasty

The old way is quite embedded in the company culture, and this is pretty much what people think of when they hear the word Retrospective. I really, really wanted to do something more. There was so much to learn from this project.

I really wanted to use some of the games from TastyCupcakes.org, most of the games are focused on not just getting a specific result, but also learning the users a bit about scrum and often also getting them of their feet.

I wanted to start of the session with something that would trigger peoples memories. It had been five months since the project started and much had happened. Much forgotten. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a fitting game at TastyCupcakes, so I decided to create my own.


You can read more about it at TastyCupcakes, but the short version is:

  1. Draw a timeline on the whiteboard (horizontal axis)
  2. Vertical axis goes from sad

3. to happy

4. Everybody gets up, one at a time, and draws a mood line

5. Make comments, add new milestones as needed

6. Discuss

This worked quite well — people participated more then I had expected and their reasons for “going sad/happy” over time was enlightening. Listening to other participants tell, what they remembered, obviously triggered more memories in everybody.

Circles and Soup

Now with our memories refreshed, I wanted something linking the positive/negative part of the old way, but different. The Circles and Soup game from TastyCupcakes, seemed like just the thing. I also hoped that it could help visualize, that a good part of the things that had gone wrong, in this projects was — to some degree — beyond our control.

I simplified the game a bit and draw this on the whiteboard:

Everybody got post-it notes and pens and was told to create post-its with issues relevant to the project. Positive and negative. The Moodgraph was still on the whiteboard for reference. I expected everybody to write two, maybe three notes, but the average turned out to be seven!

Now everybody took turns placing post-it’s on the board, explaining what the note meant to them and why they placed it where. Was it something we had direct control over (inner circle) or something that was a given and totally outside the teams control? As more notes was placed, duplicates where identified and stacked.

The inner circle turned out to be a bit to small — I must remember to make it bigger next time.

When everybody was done, I talked a bit about the issues that where outside our control. Where they really outside our control, and should we accept projects in the future, where we had no control over these things?


We then picked some of the post-it’s from the inner circle and started attacting them in solution mode. Brainstorming with notes on the whiteboard. If they where directly under our control, we should be able to do better another time. Many of the issues where facets of the same problem and where stacked besides the suggested solutions.

We decided no to go through all the issues/notes from the Circles and Soup game — this would simple take to much time. Most people had said that they wanted to say and had other things to do. A few spin-of projects where created — adjusting the Jira workflow being the biggest — for later.

I went though the reminding post-its and wrote them all down in a wiki document, adding any information/notes that had come up doing the Circles and Soup game.


When we where done I asked people for their opinion on the retrospective it self, and everybody agreed that the moodgraph had been good at refreshing everybody's memories and that the Circles and Soup game had been a good alternative to the normal positive/negative/suggestions way. Using post-its and getting up to the whiteboard activates and thinking about the added dimensions of team influence forces a bit more reflection.

Originally published at b.tc.dk on July 9, 2013.



Thomas Christensen

Mostly writing in Danish, but some bits in English — always with the will to make the world a better place