Last updated Oct 2020
The guide to retrospectives – remote or in person
Michael de le Maza,
Agile Coach
Michael is an industry recognized Agile & Scrum Coach and consultant who helps companies succeed by supporting company-wide agile transformations.

Master the sailboat retrospective in 4 steps

You want your agile retrospectives to be as valuable as possible, right? Of course you do. We have good news for you: the sailboat retrospective is an engaging way for your team to honestly evaluate your previous sprint and figure out the best way forward. Here’s everything you need to know about this helpful retrospective technique. 

What is the sailboat retrospective?

The sailboat retrospective is a retrospective technique where you and your agile team members will envision the last sprint as a sailboat. It’s a visual way for your team to identify what pushed the project forward, as well as what held it back. 

The 4 steps to a sailboat retrospective

This sailboat metaphor makes for an enlightening sprint retrospective. But, how can you implement the sailboat technique on your own team?

Start by opening a sailboat retrospective template on your Miro board. You'll see a sailboat image, a patch of land, a waterline, rocks, and an anchor below the boat. Here's one we love by Miro user Johanna Tortensson.

Next, gather your team and equip them with some digital sticky notes in Miro to use during the retro. You can even add their names as tags to the stickies so they know which ones are designated for them. 

With everything in place, it’s time for your team to brainstorm their answers to the following questions with regard to your last sprint:

  • What risks did the sprint face?

  • What delayed the sprint?

  • What propelled the sprint forward?

Team members will jot their answers to those questions down on individual sticky notes and place them on the appropriate spot on your picture of a sailboat. Then, similar themes can be grouped together and your team can discuss their findings and vote on what action items they’ll use to improve the next sprint.

Make sense? Good. Now, let’s talk a little bit more about the individual elements of the sailboat exercise.  

1. Rocks (risks)

What happens if a boat hits a rock? It gets hung up and damaged. The same is true for your sprint. The rocks represent a potential risk or obstacle for your sprint. These can persist for a long time if your team doesn’t come up with a way to address them. 

2. Anchors (delaying issues)

An anchor keeps a boat in one spot, and that’s why they’re the perfect representation of the things that held your sprint back. What caused major bottlenecks or challenges? What inhibited your agile team from making as much progress as possible? 

3. Wind (helping teams)

Wind propels a sailboat forward, and that’s why it represents what went well with your previous sprint. You’ll identify what was quite literally putting wind in your sails. You might also hear this referred to as the helping team. 

4. Land (the goal)

Finally, the land is where your boat is headed. Using the sailboat metaphor, it represents your goal or vision for the sprint. It can include both long and short-term objectives for the agile team. 

Why the sailboat is such a useful retrospective 

The sailboat is a popular retrospective format for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a fun, visual way to reflect on your past sprint and capture ideas. The use of the sailboat metaphor makes it far more approachable and digestible. A team doesn’t need to be well-versed in agile concepts and terminology to understand how to make this technique work for them. 

Additionally, many retrospective techniques look mostly at what went well and what didn’t during a sprint. This format digs deeper and challenges teams to identify what is helping and hurting their project, timeline, and their collaboration. This leads to even more continuous improvement. 

Keeping collaboration and confidentiality high with sailboat retrospectives

With a sailboat retrospective, your team is bound to uncover a lot of valuable information – some of which might not be meant for everybody’s eyes. 

If you complete this sailboat exercise on a traditional whiteboard, you’ll need to remove all of your findings at the end of the retrospective meeting or store your board somewhere safe. And, even further, if some of your team members are remote, there’s no way for them to access that information if and when they need it.

That’s why it’s better to use a virtual, collaborative whiteboard like Miro. You can use all of your favorite retrospective games and techniques, and your team (no matter where they are!) will be able to actively participate and easily refer back to that information later. 

Learn more about Miro's online whiteboard tool>>

3 FAQs about the sailboat retrospective

Ask any Scrum master, agile coach, product owner, or team leader, and they’ll be quick to tell you that the sailboat retrospective is a fun way for your team to evaluate your latest sprint.

Have more questions about how it could work on your own agile team? We have your answers right here. 

1. Why is the sailboat retrospective so widely used?

Here’s our short answer: because it’s simple. The metaphor makes it highly engaging, and it also makes it incredibly straightforward. Everybody understands a sailboat, so teams can use this technique to generate ideas and brainstorm action items without a lot of training or technical expertise. 

2. Is a sailboat and speedboat retrospective the same?

They’re very similar, in that they both use a metaphor as a good starting point for your sprint reviews. There are a number of different retrospective techniques that use a similar system and metaphor, like the sailboat, speedboat, and even the pirate ship. 

3. What do anchors represent in the sailboat retrospective? 

Anchors represent the things that held your sprint or project back. What kept it from moving forward as efficiently as possible? Perhaps you had a lot of siloed communication. Or maybe getting the right feedback and approvals was a bottleneck. Those delays are represented as anchors on your picture of a sailboat.

Ready to get started? Try this sailboat retrospective template for free when you sign up for Miro.

Looking to read more about remote collaboration? Start at Chapter 1 of our guide!

Get Miro app
Add ideas, digitize sticky notes, and leave comments on the go with Miro mobile app