An appreciative retrospective focuses the entire conversation (or a portion of the conversation) during the retrospective exclusively on positive aspects of the team’s experiences in working together.
This article describes a complete retrospective plan (covering all five of the retrospective phases, as defined by Derby and Larsen), where all five phases are entirely positive in nature.
This approach can be particularly helpful for teams that have gone through a particularly difficult iteration/sprint/release.
Set the Stage
Welcome team members to the retrospective. State an affirmative goal for the session. Choose among goals like:
- During this retrospective, we’ll find ways to amplify our strengths in process and teamwork.
- In this session, we’ll discover where we added the most value during our last sprint and plan for increasing the value we add during the next sprint.
- The goal for today’s retrospective is building on our best uses of engineering practices and methods.
- We’re going to seek out our highest quality working relationships and find ways to expand on them.
- …or any goal that sets up an expectation for positive outcomes.
After stating the goal and giving an overview of the agenda for the retrospective, offer a quick round-robin question to each team member, such as “What aspect of our working agreement did you see in action during this sprint?” This question brings team members’ attention into the retrospective session and reminds the group of their working agreements — by focusing on the times when they followed them.
Team members ask and answer a series of three or four questions that focus awareness on individual and team strengths and successes. For example:
- Tell us a story about a time this week when you felt particularly energized by your work
- What did you value most about your contributions this week?
- What did you value most about the work we’ve done together?
- In what ways did this sprint (or release or project) make a unique contribution?
- What metaphor describes this sprint best?
Keep track of these answers for later. The team will use the responses along with ideas from the next phase to help determine which actions they want to take.
Follow the data gathering questions with a question that creates a vision, such as, “Imagine we could time travel to the end of the next release. When we arrive there and converse with our future selves, we hear that it was the most productive, most satisfying effort we’ve ever worked on. What do you see and hear in that future time?”
Give team members a little time to connect with this vision. Then ask: “What changes did we implement now that resulted in such productive and satisfying work in the future?”
Write down all the answers.
Look back over all of the answers the team gave in the last two phases. Pull out common ideas. Look for patterns, common threads, and compelling ideas, then consider why these hold significance for the team.
Decide What to Do
Based on the data and insights, discuss the implications of different possible Action Items. Ask questions like:
- Which ideas and actions build on our successes, meet the situational (or customer) needs, and tap our greatest energy?
- What are we best positioned to try next?
- What do we really want to try (or sustain)?
Create a list of potential Action Items.
Choose no more than three reasonably small Action Items the team can take during the next sprint. Identify which team members want to lead the follow-through effort for each Action Item. Make sure that no one gets “volunteered.” Suggest that team members consider the Action Items during sprint planning and reflect on the outcomes at the next retrospective, or sooner.
Use dot voting or another consensus-building technique for selecting the Action Items to focus on.
Close the retrospective
Reiterate the Action Items the team has chosen to undertake. Ask the team for feedback about the thing or things they liked most about this retrospective, so that you can incorporate that feedback and design even more satisfying, enjoyable retrospectives.
Keep the lists you’ve created of patterns, common threads and compelling ideas. Such lists will serve as a resource for planning future retrospectives.