Agile retrospective: welcome to Mario Kart!

Let’s move forward and avoid bananas!

Adrien Guéret
Mar 10, 2020 · 6 min read

Like many companies, OpenClassrooms works with Agile methodologies. Our projects are run via two-week sprints and each sprint is concluded with a 45 minutes retrospective.

The organizer of the retro changes every sprint; it can be any member of the team! The format is not imposed, an organizer may apply the formula he wishes to animate his retrospective. This is an ideal opportunity to bring a little more fun to these meetings which, because of their recurrence, can become tiresome.

When my turn came to organize the retro, I immediately decided to do something in my image.
All my colleagues know, I have been a fan of Nintendo for a long time. Just check my desk to realize it:

That’s why the theme of my retro was easy to find: Super Mario, or nothing!
The purpose of these meetings is to point out what made us advance or not during the sprint, so using more specifically the Mario Kart serie was kind of obvious: what better than using a racing game to talk about the progress of a team?

This article will explain you how this Mario Kart retrospective works.
If you want to test it, you will find at the bottom of this page a section “Try yourself the Mario Kart retro!”.

Step 1: we enter on the circuit

Welcomed by a Mario Kart music, team members discover a circuit as a board game, with Mario on the starting line.

In front of each chair are six “item” cards:

  • 2 bananas;
  • 2 mushrooms;
  • 1 Super Star;
  • 1 Bob-omb.

The context of the retro is explained: goal for the team is to move Mario on the circuit, hoping to do at least a complete lap.

Step 2: we prepare the departure

But before starting at top speed, we need to check the actions defined on the previous retro. Have they been made? If not, why?

It’s only once all the previous actions are reviewed that we can move on to the next step.

Step 3: we start squealing tires

Each participant has six “item” cards. By using a card, Mario will move by a total of spaces equal to the value of the corresponding object. A mushroom (+1) makes the kart go forward to one step, the banana (+0) makes it stay in place while the Bob-omb (-1) even moves it back!

From the six items he has, the participant must choose exactly three. He or she associates a post-it to each of these items, on which he writes an event that happened during the sprint.
The value of the cards indicates how bad or good this event was.

Please note everyone is required to choose three items: no more, no less.

Why not more than three items?

To force a choice. If an employee has a lot to say, this system forces him to focus on the most important. Forcing someone to put aside some topics reinforces the importance of those he has selected. It is therefore all the more important to define actions to answer them!

Why not less than three items?

To force ourself to remember the sprint. A lof of things happen in two weeks, it would be astonishing not to find at least three events to speak about. Even the most insignificant can prove to be interesting.
If a collaborator really does not find three different points to raise, he or she can talk about things a little more personal: is he or she proud to have made a good meal? Maybe a good movie to advice? Is he or she preparing for a marathon?
It’s of course important to focus on work-related events, but talking about lighter topics is a good way to humanize the meeting a bit more, while allowing everyone to participate.

The team has several minutes to select items and write post-its. Once completed, we can move on to the next step.

Step 4: may the race begin!

Each participant has three events ready to be discussed, associated with items. The animator selects at random the first colleague who will speak, giving him the totem of speech, represented by a red shell:

The totem holder is the one to speak: others do not have the right to cut him off, but they may of course ask to intervene. The goal is not to forbid dialogue!

When it’s his or her turn to speak, the collaborator enumerates his or her points by indicating the associated items. Take for example Bob, who has chosen the following ones:

Banane (+0)
Champignon (+1)
Champignon (+1)
Super Étoile (+2)
Super Étoile (+2)

Here, Bob has used a banana, a mushroom and a Super Star, therefore he allows Mario to move forward 0 + 1+ 2 = 3 spaces on the board.

Note that by making Mario progress on the circuit, we actually symbolize the progress of the team on the sprint!

Once Bob has finished to talk about the topics that matter to him, he gives the red shell to the person of his choice: it’s this colleague’s turn to speak.
We continue the process until the whole team has spoken.

Step 5: back to the stand

Everyone has spoken, it’s time to look at how far Mario has progressed on the circuit.
Did he manage to complete a complete lap? Congrats, that means the sprint went pretty well!
Otherwise, it does not matter, it will be better next time.

Whatever the result is, it is necessary to define actions to improve the raised points.

The animator then retrieves all bananas and Bob-Ombs that have been used. For each of the associated events, a discussion should be done with everyone, in order to define an action to resolve the corresponding situation.

And… the retrospective is over!

At OpenClassrooms, I have already animated two Mario Kart retrospectives. They have been very well received and the feedback is very positive. The playful aspect allows a greater involvement in the meeting, while remaining effective by its well-defined rules.

If you want to break the monotony of agile retrospectives, don’t hesitate and test it! You will find below indications to make the material.

Try yourself the Mario Kart retro!

Using a board game to illustrate the team progress is very important for this retro. It adds a playful aspect and an obvious objective to achieve: complete a lap!
I’ve searched for a 2D Mario Kart map, I’ve updated it quickly with Paint, added spaces with Gimp and here is the result:

Cards illustrations are official artworks from Nintendo. The font used for cards values is Super Mario 256.
A quick assembly on Gimp and we’re done.

You will find in this zipped folder all the graphic resources necessary for this retrospective.

You can then print card illustrations or, for better quality, use a site like MakePlayingCards in order to create a real card game. For around twenty euros, you can make two sets of 55 cards.

Have fun preparing and animating this retrospective!



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