4Ls Retrospective

4 L's Retrospective Template

Reflect on what your team liked, learned, lacked, and longed for.

About the 4 L's Retrospective Template

The 4 L's retrospective is a team activity designed to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved upon following a sprint. The 4 L's stand for liked, learned, lacked, and longed for.

After a sprint, it can be helpful for the team to pause and take stock of what happened. Emotions can run high, so it can be difficult for teams to have a discussion that isn’t marred by frustration. The 4Ls retrospective is a useful tool that removes the emotional elements of a sprint. It empowers the team to highlight the positive elements of a sprint and understand the negative, allowing them to think from a factual rather than emotional perspective.

The 4Ls technique is popular because it’s easy to understand and simple for a facilitator to set up. Unlike other traditional retrospectives, the 4 Ls method requires only 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

How to run a 4 Ls retrospective

One of the benefits of the 4 L’s retrospective is that it’s easy to set up and complete. Whether you’re using an online template to facilitate the retrospective online, or you plan on completing in person on a whiteboard, the following steps will help you succeed. 

Step 1: Set the tone and expectations

Before starting the retrospective, make sure all participants understand its purpose. If the sprint being reflected on was stressful, consider addressing this openly and honestly before starting the retrospective. It is ultimately the facilitators job to set the tone and expectations for the activity, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The most successful retrospectives are completed when the team is fully bought into its importance and value, so the facilitator must take extra care to ensure this has happened before starting. 

Step 2: Prepare the space

Whether you're holding your retrospective in person or online, the ‘space’ needs to be set up properly. In person, this means ensuring you have writing materials, a whiteboard, or flip charts to visually collaborate and take notes. Online, this can be as simple as signing up for a free Miro account and creating a blank 4 Ls retrospective from our template. 

Step 3: Determine what was liked about the sprint

The first item in the 4 Ls retrospective is intended to uncover what people liked about the sprint. This is intentionally broad and open ended. It’s up to the facilitator to guide participants into more and more useful insights into what they liked, and why they liked it. The goal is to uncover the underlying reasons for why a particular thing was liked, in order to ensure it happens again during the next sprint. 

Step 4: Determine what was learned

The most valuable lessons are often learned from mistakes made, or challenges overcome during the completion of actual work. Unfortunately, these lessons often go unshared with the team. This is a wasted opportunity that the 4 Ls retrospective is designed to capitalize on. This element of the retrospective asks participants to reflect on and share anything they might have learned. 

It’s important for the facilitator to ensure the team understands no learning is too small to share, as well as to guide people into uncovering more learnings than they might have realized. 

Step 5: Uncover what was lacked

This step is designed to surface everything that held the team back during the sprint. This can be something as simple as slow communication with an outside team, or something more complicated that requires extra analysis to uncover. The purpose of documenting what was lacked during a sprint is to make sure you don’t run into the same problem in future sprints.

It’s common for participants to feel uncomfortable sharing what was lacking if they feel leadership doesn’t want to hear about it. This might be because they believe the solution is too expensive or time consuming to be worth investing in. Either way, it’s again up to the facilitator to ensure the team feels comfortable sharing as much as possible during this step. 

Step 6: Document what was longed for

The last element of the 4 Ls retrospective involves reflecting on what was longed for. This can be something tangible like better equipment, or something less tangible, like more or less involvement from leadership.

Be careful that the ‘Longed for’ section isn’t simply a mirror of the what was lacked section. It will often be similar, but it gives you the opportunity to determine and prioritize what is needed based on the positive impact it may have. For example, if ‘faster computers’ was listed in the ‘Lacked’ section, ‘fast computers’ isn’t necessarily the only thing to add in this step. You might consider including ‘faster internet’ or ‘better software’ as other things that would solve for what was lacked.  

Step 7: Assign followups and action items

This is perhaps the most important step in the retrospective process. If you don’t take the time to assign followup action items to specific people or teams, you won’t gain much from having completed the process. 

Before ending the retrospective, ask for volunteers to own next steps. For any followup that doesn’t have a volunteer, assign it to the person most responsible for uncovering the insight during the retrospective. Close the session out by confirming everyone understand what is expected of them moving forward, and thank them for their time.

5 tips to a successful creating a 4Ls retrospective

1. Give people space and time to reflect. Make sure the team has about 30 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted time to take stock of their thoughts. Encourage people to take copious notes. Finally, make sure the room is quiet and free from outside distraction.

2. Ask everyone to turn off their devices so they can focus on the retrospective. If people are distracted by their laptops or phones, then they will find it harder to reflect. If collaborating online using Miro to complete your 4 L's retrospective, consider asking people to have their cameras turned on to ensure they’re focused on the task.

3. Assure everyone that there are no right or wrong answers. The goal of the 4Ls is to give your team the space they need to reflect after a Sprint, so this isn’t a test! If participants feel like they’re unable to give honest feedback on what worked and what didn’t, the retrospective won’t uncover valuable insights. If you’re unsure about your team’s comfort level with giving honest feedback, consider making it anonymous. One benefit of performing a 4 Ls retrospective online is that people have an extra layer of anonymity, and often are more willing to give critical feedback than when in person.

4. Encourage your team to focus on action, not emotion. The purpose of the 4 L's retrospective is to remove emotion from your judgement. The simple format is intended to facilitate objective feedback and reflection, but this can still be a challenge. If the sprint being evaluated was a particularly stressful one, consider a symbolic debrief activity to ease tension and lighten the mood before holding your retrospective. If you find the retrospective is becoming too emotional and not actionable, it’s the facilitators job to intervene and keep the discussion productive.

5. Use the 4Ls retrospective to bring remote teams together after a difficult sprint. Miro’s free online collaboration software and pre-built 4 L’s retrospective template gives remote and distributed teams the ability to collaborate without constraints. Remote teams often feel isolated, and the lack of a formal debrief and reflection after a particularly stressful sprint can harm morale. Hosting online retrospectives not only brings teams closer, but gives you the opportunity to find out what made that sprint challenging or stressful to ensure the next sprint runs smoother.

4 L's Retrospective Template

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