The Donkey Kong sprint retrospective

One of the challenges of being an Agile Delivery Manager (ADM) is continuously varying the approach when running a retrospective. Asking the same questions generates the same results, so I like to mix it up and encourage the teams I work with to think differently.

Not long ago, I worked with a team that loved to play the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. I thought it would be a good candidate for a retrospective framework. If you’d like to try it out with your team, here’s how it works.

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Source: Pixabay

In the game, Mario climbs a damaged tower block, jumping from platform to platform in order to rescue Princess Peach from the ape, Donkey Kong. As Mario climbs the platforms and ladders, Donkey Kong throws barrels at Mario — he can either jump over them or smash the barrels with a hammer he finds along the way. In later levels, barrels which aren’t smashed turn into fireballs which then come back up the building and must be dodged.

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The Donkey Kong ‘board’

We can think of rescuing the princess as a metaphor for achieving the sprint goal, the barrels can be impediments, fireballs are risks and the hammers can be improvements. As the ADM, I asked them to consider:

  • Did they rescue the princess?
  • Did they take the most direct route to their goal?
  • Did any broken ladders or gaps in the platforms cause them to waste time ?
  • Who was Donkey Kong?
  • What barrels were thrown at them?
  • Did they smash the barrels so they won’t come back?
  • Will any barrels come back in the next sprint as fireballs?
  • Did they get any bonus powerups that will help them in the next sprint?

The questions I asked are not dissimilar to those in other retrospectives, but by using the game as a theme, I am seeking to make the session more engaging.

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The retrospective game board

To kick off the session, I drew the ‘game board’ on a wall, making sure to include plenty of broken ladders and gaps in the platforms. I also added some pictures of Donkey Kong, Mario and Princess Peach and made sure I had plenty of barrels, hammers and fireballs which I cut out and gave to the team.

After explaining how the retrospective worked, I asked them to start generating ideas, using Post-its. Each idea went on the board accompanied by a fireball, barrel or hammer. Once we’d discussed the ideas, we might do some simple dot-voting and come up with actions to address some of our challenges.

If you want to try a new retro format, go ahead and try the Donkey Kong retrospective. Alternatively, why not try create a similar framework around another game? Find out what your team likes to do outside of work and build a retrospective around them — you’ll find it brings excellent results.

Doug Idle is a Senior Agile Delivery Manager at When he’s not delivering awesomeness, he spends his time listening to Guns ’N’ Roses and racing karts across the southeast of the UK.

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Senior Agile Delivery Manager at and Amateur Rock Star

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