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Eight Retrospective Formats for Highly Productive Teams

When it comes to agile retrospectives, there’s endless room for improvement. However, to become more productive over time, you have to be able to find the right flow for your team. Retrospectives are a great place to start, but implementing just any agile retrospective format often doesn’t work as these formats are specific to a team’s individuality and unique strengths.

These weaknesses also might be hard to notice, so it's easy to not be concerned about how compatible your team is with a retrospective format. But, as a scrum master, you’re responsible for finding solutions and improving workflows. You have to be able to make sure that your team doesn’t get complacent, and that the team members are always striving to improve their performance.

To make sure that you make the right decision for your team, we have compiled for you today eight retrospective formats that guarantee a productive workflow just right for you and your team.

Why Retros Matter

Before we get into what retrospectives are right for you, we should first understand exactly what a retro is and why it matters. Retrospectives are recurring meetings after a project sprint — typically every two weeks, but cadence varies from team to team. A retro’s core purpose is to take the team’s pulse and discuss improvements for the project sprint ahead. Teams hold retros in fixed time-based intervals to encourage progressive improvement. Retros are ideal for inciting deeper thinking about improvements in productivity and to reset morale. You should go into ever retrospective assuming that everyone did their best work given the limitations of the sprint — the agile prime directive.

Retros are vital as they allow you and your team an opportunity to take a step back and look at exactly what you’ve done. Through this clear view of the project, you would be able to look at how things work, what needs to be changed and then set clear action items.

Retrospectives build the foundations of communication and, depending on what retrospective format you choose, these meetings can develop entirely different cultures and workflows within your project. They eliminate the potential for unnecessary back-channel conversations about the project, and through them, you encourage an open style of communication, which clears uncertainty for your team members.

Went Well, Improve, Action

Moving onto the various retrospective formats your team can choose from, the went well, improve, action format is a straightforward retrospective, and one of the easiest to implement. Scrum masters often used this format as a reflective exercise to analyze iterations or phases of work. It identifies all the possible areas of improvement in a project and then works on them systematically.

To implement the "went well, improve, action" format, you must first divide your board into three sections. These columns would then be aptly named “went well,” “improve” and “action.” In the “went well” column, you and your team would first list the obvious positives of what went well in the project. You then move on to the less obvious positives and list any conflicting opinions of those positives on a card that would be placed within the column. These cards, along with the clear positives of the project, are then considered in the "Improve" column, where you and your team — you guessed it — discuss ways to improve.

The purpose of pointing out positives and then discussing improvements, instead of simply discussing what was wrong with the project, shifts the focus towards more encouraging feedback. This process of improvement allows your team to be able to bring up points of pain, discomfort and disappointment in a collaborative space. It highlights the fact that mistakes aren’t that bad after all, and can be easily improved moving forward.

Due to this constructive thinking, you can fill the final action column to list what’s ahead in the next sprint. This stage involves simply bringing to life the suggestions your team brought up in the went well and improve columns and adding them to your workflows.

Lean Coffee

Lean Coffee is a retrospective format that allows for open-ended conversations in a time-boxed environment. It runs a retrospective by dividing a Kanban board into three columns — to do, doing and done. Your team then adds topics up for discussion in the to do column. These can be anything in the project that needs addressing. When this column is filled, your team then gets a set number of votes and marks topics they want to discuss.

Team members can vote any way they want, and once everyone has voted for the most nominated topic, they are then moved to the doing column to initiate a discussion there. This discussion happens in a fixed period and should facilitate all necessary talking points. Once done, the topic is then finally moved to the done column and the next highest voted topic is discussed.

Through this cyclical discussion technique, tasks are deliberated over following their importance, and consequently, nothing valuable is left out in the retrospective. Lean Coffees focus on systematic problem solving and help prevent tangents during precious meeting time.

Simple Retro

In a simple retrospective, you hold a meeting to discuss the team’s shortcomings in the project so far. When you discuss these shortcomings, you then come up with areas for improvement and how to implement those efficiently. You list all possible good and bad processes within the project — this includes both flaws and weak links as well as areas where you succeeded or did well. Your team then considers what can be done to improve the project by either starting or stopping processes to fix the named problems.

Regardless of whether you use the most basic or “simple” agile retrospective format, it is still highly effective as it implements improvements while taking the opinions of your team members into account. It gets straight to the point and lists solutions directly.

Start, Stop, Continue

The start, stop, continue agile retrospective format is primarily centered on action and encourages team members to work together to come up with ideas for team improvement. These meetings are broken into three parts. The “start” discusses what you and your team members should get on doing in the next sprint, the “stop” discusses what processes should stop and “continue” suggests what you all should continue doing.

This format is effective for researching possible weaknesses and areas of improvement through direct action. It encourages you to be able to know the processes that go on in your project and to directly influence them to maximize efficiency. It is also preferred as a format that is fast, easy, and non-threatening. Retros work best when there’s an objective view of project planning and each item generated can lead to a direct change in behavior.

Mad, Sad, Glad

The mad, sad, glad retrospective format takes a more subjective route to project management. Through it, your team members voice the emotions they went through in the project by listing things that made them mad, glad or sad.

Just like the previous formats, there are three divisions across the board, but this time it’s for each of these emotions. The “mad” column is to denote everything that your team had gone through in the project that irritated them, the “sad” column is to voice their disappointment and what upset them, and the “glad” column is for what made them happy.

This format particularly favors your team members' emotional well-being and encourages them to be as open as possible. Though not directly influencing productivity, this format supports the idea that a happy workforce makes a productive workplace. So, your team members being able to voice their emotions allows them to trust you more readily and work to innovate.

KALM

KALM is a retrospective format that encourages a systematic approach to the project. In a KALM retro you start by asking yourself what is being done and what is its overall value, what goals are being achieved, and how important they are. These questions would moderate conversations between development team members and they should cover the categories of Keep, Add, Less, and More.

These categories consist of lists of processes and abilities your team should either keep, add, make less of, or do even more of.  This allows you to consider all possible strengths and weaknesses while enforcing an engaging discussion between your team members, fostering a conversation about all current activities and their value. KALM is good in instances where you want to create a more open environment between team members and encourage them to be able to understand each other better.

Plus and Delta

Plus and delta is a highly collaborative format so it works regardless of where you and your team members are. The format divides the board into two parts of what had worked “plus” and what can be improved “delta.”

This process of reviewing what worked in the project and what didn't causes you to constantly question your pace and look towards improvement. Similarly, the two columns in the plus delta agile retrospective format ask your team members to consider what went well and what can be done about what did not.

The format is known as plus and delta as the + and Greek symbol Δ symbolically represent what’s working and change, respectively. This aligns with the essence of the format as a whole, systematically representing what is wrong in a project and solving those problems accordingly.

As stated earlier, the format divides the board into two columns of Plus and Delta. In the Plus column, you write down everything that is currently going well in the project. This might include strategies, conversations, new processes, or collaborations. It should also be able to include wins such as positive reviews, additional sales, or signing on new clients.

The Delta column should then include whatever frustrations or roadblocks you and your team members faced. This includes clients who are hard to manage, ineffective relationships between coworkers, or general areas that need to be worked on. In this case, it's important to remember to keep feedback as constructive as possible and to frame mishaps as specific actions can't be measured.

Liked, Lacked, Learned, Longed For

Liked, lacked, learned, longed For or 4L for short allows teams with an opportunity to reflect on their mishaps, developments, and interests. It takes into perspective both the subjective and objective side of the project and allows you to focus on your team members' wellbeing while attempting to maximize productivity.

It works by creating four lists on your retrospective board, which are divided as Liked, Lacked, Learned, and Long For. You then have participants brainstorm ideas for each of the columns, discussing what people liked from the project, lacked in ability, learned, or longed to have done.

As with other retro formats, this is a format that gets the team to focus on the positives and negatives, but at the same time, it also incites the subjective side to your team members' thoughts. By asking what they learned and longed for, you take into consideration the different ways by which your team members individually improved and how you can influence improvement in a team.

Conclusion

Overall, choosing a retro format is a decision that will have far-reaching consequences on your and your teams' performance. So it’s important that you understand your team enough to choose one just right for you. However, if you can't figure that out, don't worry. There's nothing that says you have to stick to one format forever. Test, observe and adjust to get the right fit. Choose a format that lets your team voice their opinions and remain open and honest with scrum masters and team members alike.

Try RetroTeam for free today and get your retros rolling. Set up and try any of these eight retro formats in the app and see which one works best for your team.