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How to Run and Effective 4L Retro

Constant improvement leads to success in any field. Software development is no different. Part of Agile development requires that teams sit to review their work and make adjustments as they go along. 

In Agile parlance, these meetings are called retrospectives. These are essential for teams to look back at past projects from a critical standpoint and to improve their workflow. It’s a tool in a scrum master’s belt for teams across departments, organizations and even borders. One of the many retro formats [Link] you can try with your team is the 4L.

4L Retro Basics

These L’s stand for many of the aspects of a project sprint and act as prompts for discussion. They are:

●      Liked

●      Learned

●      Lacked

●      Longed for

In this method, the employees collect items to discuss what went well and what the team can improve going forward. While this may seem straightforward, getting it right takes practice and focus. Even seasoned scrum masters and project managers can benefit from some tips to make their retros run better. This article will help you better understand and facilitate a 4L retrospective. The following steps are an easy guide for a productive meeting.  

The first step to 4L retro format is getting accustomed to the template. You can use a whiteboard if you’re all in the same room, or a digital platform like RetroTeam [Link] to run it remotely. The team then pins their notes on the board with comments in the respective columns as the board is divided for each of the 4Ls.. Its simplicity lends itself well to small companies as well as larger organizations, but try to limit retros to a few key people.

Each L is an essential component of the retro format and correspond to the following explanations:


Team members share their successes in the sprint here, highlighting factors that led to productive work. It also mentions whether the learned column of the previous retrospective is efficient for the new sprint as well. Appreciation for the team is also noted down here. It’s vital that you spend time on the liked column to keep morale up and to give credit where credit is due. 


The learned column is for sharing novel ways the team solved problems that came up in the sprint. This is more significant and sheds light on new technical aspects of the project, followed by acquired skills, and connections. Participants can also use the learned column to critique previous projects based on newly acquired skills. The learned column helps ground participants in the innovations that emerged and to keep looking for ways to improve in the upcoming sprint. 


Any person in a supervisory role should pay attention to what’s getting in the way of efficient work. The 4L’s lacked column is a critical analysis of the project focusing on what tools or other support was missing or that became blockers. This also serves to point out the next best options and solutions. As a leader, it’s important that you listen and support your team in removing blockers to maintain team motivation. 

Longed For

The longed for column differs from the lacked column in that this one is more about what would be nice to have in the next sprint. It’s a great moment to discuss new tools or new communication strategies to improve the next sprint.

After you learn the basics, it’s simple to set in motion. First you need a moderator — a scrum master or project manager. Then set a time and gather your team’s feedback. Then discuss the results and create a plan of action for the next sprint.

Pros and Cons

Following the kind of lightweight format, Lean Coffee meetings have advantages and disadvantages. We can understand these better when putting them against traditional meetings and seeing how the differences work or not.

In traditional meetings, organizers do most of the work like inviting participants, brainstorming the topic to be discussed, and setting up the agenda. The participants may either have much interest in attending the meeting or none at all. However, they often have to attend even if the interest level is low and the participants hardly get a chance to influence the content or voice their opinions on the choice of topics.

On the other hand, in Lean Coffee meetings, the participants themselves extract the topics. This gives everyone the chance to discuss their proposed topic, thus increasing their interest in the meeting. As the agenda is set up by the participants, they take an active part instead of staying as passive listeners. They exhibit valuable output with their sources of knowledge and wisdom put together.

Setting a strict time for discussion actually helps Lean Coffee meetings. It keeps members focused on the topic and keeps them on their toes ready to find solutions. This results in more intense and effective outcomes in a shorter time compared to traditional meetings.

One major drawback of Lean Coffee meetings, however, is that unpopular or difficult topics may not make the cut. Those who bring up these topics tend not to not bring them up again either, as they may feel that the least popular topics are not important enough to be brought up next time. That is not very healthy for a team or staff meeting where people should be able to discuss the issues which have personal significance.

Bottom Line

Conclusively, Lean Coffee meetings are found to be a lot more effective and enjoyable. This is mainly because the reins are in the hands of those who can best use them and who are actually a part of the whole thing. The conversation is not dominated by any one person, nor is there a rigid agenda that must be followed regardless of whether somebody agrees with it or not.

The participants are the ones with the controls and have a choice to steer it as they wish. The group becomes more invested in the meeting as the agenda is their own. It gives a natural flow to the discussion, with everyone engaged and taking ownership. Every member plays a role in keeping the meeting on point and giving a productive direction to it at the same time.