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.

Agile retrospective ideas to keep your team engaged

You know that exercise is important, so you always make time to get to the gym. But here’s the thing: Imagine that when you’re there, you do the exact same exercise over and over again – and only that exercise. 

What happens after a while? Well, not only do you get bored (hey, we can’t blame you), but you also fail to take a well-rounded approach to fitness. Repeating your same stale routine means you’re never finding fresh ways to challenge yourself.

The same concept applies to your retrospectives. To make the most of them, you should continue to incorporate new sprint retrospective ideas. Doing so will help your team glean new insights and build their agile muscles. 

Same old sprint? Refresh with some new retrospective ideas

Here are some scary statistics: 91% of employees admit that they’ve daydreamed during meetings. Another 39% admit that they’ve even dozed off.

 Yikes. Successful agile retrospectives require that your entire team is engaged in the conversation. But, when you use the same retrospective format time and time again, they’re far more likely to go on autopilot. Cue the yawns. It’s time for a change. 

10 best sprint retrospective ideas to keep your team engaged

You want to switch things up for your next retrospective, but you aren’t sure where to start. Here are 10 different retrospective techniques you can use to boost engagement and enthusiasm during your sprint review. 

1. Mad, Sad, Glad

Pinpointing our emotions can be powerful, and that’s exactly what this retrospective tool asks your agile team members to do. 

Everybody will take time to write their observations about the last sprint on sticky notes (digital sticky notes work too!). Then, they’ll place them in the appropriate section of the whiteboard based on how that observation makes them feel: mad, sad, or glad. 

Use the Mad, Sad, Glad retrospective template in Miro

2. 4 Ls

This is another straightforward retrospective format that can be particularly enlightening. The four L’s stand for liked, learned, lacked, and longed for. You and your scrum team will focus on one L at a time, and then brainstorm elements of the previous sprint that fit in that category. 

What did you like about your last sprint? What did you learn? What went wrong (meaning, what did you lack)? You get the idea. These seemingly simple questions can inspire a great conversation and reveal a lot of findings you can use to improve your next sprint. 

Use the 4 Ls Retrospective Template in Miro>> 

3. Starfish

This retrospective format challenges your development team to go beyond the surface of what went well and what didn’t. Your team will brainstorm observations from your sprint that fall into the following five categories (like the five points of a starfish):

  • What you should keep doing

  • What you should do less of

  • What you should do more of

  • What you should stop doing

  • What you should start doing

Like with most of the other retrospective ideas, you’ll need to group similar themes and decide which ones should be actioned on in your next sprint. 

4. Sailboat

There’s nothing like a good metaphor to host an effective retrospective and keep your team engaged, and that’s exactly what the sailboat retrospective does. 

Your agile team will compare your last sprint to a sailboat and identify what propelled it forward (like wind) and what held it back (like anchors). They’ll jot their observations on sticky notes and place them accordingly on the picture of the sailboat that’s on your whiteboard – either on the sail (for wind) or below the boat (for anchors). 

Use the sailboat retrospective template Miro>>

5. KALM

With this retrospective technique, you’ll divide your whiteboard into four areas: keep, add, more, less. You and your team will reflect on your previous sprint and generate ideas and observations to be placed on the board:

  • Keep: Something the team is doing well and should continue doing.

  • Add: Something new that the team should incorporate in the next sprint.

  • More: Something that’s bringing value to the team, and you should do more of.

  • Less: Something that isn’t going as well, and you should do less of.

6. SWOT

You’ve likely heard of a SWOT analysis before – it stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. But maybe you’ve never thought about using it during a retrospective meeting. 

Look back at your previous retrospective, identify its strengths and weaknesses, and pinpoint opportunities and threats that you can address in your next sprint. Plot them on your whiteboard accordingly.

Use the SWOT Analysis Template in Miro>>

7. Timeline Retrospective

This format is especially helpful for multi-team, multi-sprint retrospectives. With this technique, you’re reflecting back on a longer period of time – not just on your most recent sprint.

A timeline retrospective adds dimension to your retrospective meeting by incorporating the element of time. You’ll look back at key events over a given time period, identify pain points, and develop action items to address them moving forward. 

8. Tell a Story

For new teams, retrospectives can be exciting. But for established teams, they can start to feel like a chore. This technique relies on some familiar retrospective concepts but uses them in a new way.

The gist is that you’ll choose some shaping words (such as “mad,” “sad,” and “glad,” as just one example), and then team members will have a set timebox to silently write a story about the last sprint. Here’s the catch: They need to incorporate the shaping words. Team members read their stories aloud, discuss findings, and decide what actions they’ll take next.

9. Start, Stop, Continue

A good retrospective isn’t just about having a conversation – it’s about identifying action items you can use to improve your next sprint. This retrospective tool is great for turning a discussion into action. 

You and the rest of the team will review your latest sprint and identify actions that you should start doing, stop doing, and continue doing in future sprints. 

Use the Start, Stop, Continue Template in Miro>> 

10. Scrum Values 

This tool will help your team evaluate how your sprint matched up with the core Scrum values: openness, courage, focus, respect, and commitment.

You’ll create a chart on your whiteboard that lists those values, and then your agile team will rate the sprint with regard to each value on a scale of one to five. You’ll discuss and provide a reason for why that rating was assigned, and also discuss what you’ll improve in your next sprint. 

Enable your team to get the most out of new retrospectives

The above exercises will help your team check-in with each other, evaluate their latest sprint, and drill down to root causes. 

But, an effective retrospective requires a little more than a solid format or helpful tool. Here are a few more tips that Scrum masters, agile coaches, product owners, and other team leaders swear by.  

1. Encourage your team to dig deep

It’s easy to point to surface-level improvements that will boost your next sprint. But, the goal of your retrospective is continuous improvement. That means your team needs to dig deep and focus on structural improvements.

The action items you identify within your retrospective meeting should be experiments – not guaranteed wins. These actions are things your team is going to test out to learn more about what does and doesn’t work. 

It can be tough (and even a little embarrassing) to take a magnifying glass to the way your team is working, but it’s essential for improving your next iteration. 

2. Gauge how your team feels

You tried out one of these new retrospective ideas, and you aren’t sure how your team feels about it. Fortunately, the solution is easy: ask them.

When you’ve wrapped up your retrospective, ask your team if they felt that format allowed them to analyze the sprint, express their thoughts, and complete the objective. 

They’ll give you insights you can use to refine what formats work for your team and adjust your next meeting accordingly. 

3. Give your team members access to information

You’re uncovering a lot of beneficial information in your retrospectives. So, why would you lock it away from your team members?

Using a collaborative online whiteboard like Miro means you can keep your observations, conclusions, and action items stored somewhere accessible for your entire agile team. That way, they can easily refer back to those details when needed. 

Try the Remote Lightning Decision Jam Workshop Template by Michael Strobel to take your team from retrospective to action.

Sprint retrospective idea questions

We’ve covered tons of great retrospective ideas that will boost learning and engagement in your next retrospective. Still have questions? We have answers to some retrospective FAQs. 

1. How do I make my team more engaged during retrospectives?

Switching up your retrospective format is one of the best ways to keep your team committed to the process, while also reviewing their sprints in different ways. Different techniques will allow you to uncover different findings – and it’ll keep your retrospectives from getting stale. 

2. How can I make my retrospective fun?

A fun retrospective is a good retrospective. Fortunately, all of the different retrospective ideas we outlined above can be fun for your team to participate in. Even better? They’re valuable, as they give you an organized way to evaluate your previous sprints. 

3. What are the most common types of sprint retrospectives? 

All of the above formats we outlined are somewhat common, and different techniques work for different teams and situations. Worry less about which ones are most popular, and focus more on which ones are the best fit for your agile team.

Ready to get started? Sign up for a free Miro account to try running a virtual retrospective with your team.

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