Improving together as a team can be challenging. That’s why retrospectives are so important. They help expose issues before they turn into insurmountable problems.
Asking the right set of questions is key to understanding what is really happening with your team/project. I’m hoping this blog post will help you find that set of questions to make a real impact.
Since this blog post is pretty long, here’s a table to outline what the focus is for each template type:
|Start, Stop, Continue||Actions|
|Mad, Sad, Glad||Emotions|
|4L's Retrospective||Individual feelings|
|Three Little Pigs||Fragility|
|SWOT Analysis||Strategic decision|
This is an excellent set of questions, since it focuses on your team’s actions. Use these retro questions to determine what actions are valuable and which ones should be scrapped.
Start: What is something your team hasn’t done but should do? This could also be something your team has done in the past, stopped doing, but is now worth trying again. It could be a new approach, way of communicating, or a way to minimize distractions and increase focus on what really matters.
Stop: Is there something your team is doing that they should no longer do? For example, what causes stress, unhealthy team dynamics, or lost time?
Continue: What are some things that are valuable that the team is doing and should continue to do? This is also a great place to praise other team members for great things they’ve done (accomplishments, teamwork, etc.).
This set of questions focus on your team’s emotions. Understanding our emotions has a huge impact on each member’s wellbeing and the overall team’s wellbeing. Often people brush away their emotions and just focus on facts/data. Doing this for too long can cause people to bottle up their emotions, which can lead to clashes amongst team members. By regularly discussing our emotions, it helps our mental health and emotional stability within the team.
Mad: What makes you feel mad? It’s important that your team feels safe enough to truly express this feeling.
At the beginning of the retro, make sure to point out that individuals shouldn’t be targeted. The goal is to help the entire team get better instead of making people feel bad. For example, instead of saying “John did a terrible job at testing out the feature I built, which led to the feature breaking for our clients”, instead say “Quality and testing really suffered this week. We should try to get better at this as a team.”
Sad: What is something that makes you feel sad? For example, this could be something your team used to do, but no longer does. It could also be related to the type of work you are doing or be related to team dynamics.
Glad: What makes you feel glad? It’s a huge encouragement to the team to share what makes you happy. For example, you could mention if a team member helped you out or if something went really well.
This classic set of questions help your team learn from what happened. Those who learn from the past will avoid making the same mistakes in the future. This is one of the most common set of questions, but it’s still very powerful.
What went well: What did you or the team do that was good? This could be an action or a decision that was made, an excellent show of teamwork, processes or technology that is working well, etc. This is also a great place to praise a team member for something helpful they did.
What didn’t go well: Is there something that wasn’t good? For example, are there bad team dynamics? Was an action taken by the team that went poorly? Is there some process or technology that seems to be hindering productivity?
Just a note, this is not a place to call out an individual in a negative way. The scrum master should point out ahead of time to not negatively single people out. The goal is to grow together as a team and for the team members to trust each other.
These questions help explore individual feelings. It can be very valuable to share your feelings with the team and to learn how other people are feeling. You might be surprised how many people share the same feelings you do.
Liked: Is there something that you enjoyed or felt positively about? For example, an action that was taken by the team, a team member helping you out, or a decision that was made?
Learned: Did you acquire new knowledge or a new skill? If someone on the team taught you something, this is a great place to thank them. How were you able to use what you learned?
Lacked: Was there something you needed but didn’t have at the time? For example, were you missing a key piece of information, technology, or a person who could help you?
Longed For: What’s something you wish you had? This could be a technology you were missing, more help from the team, a better process, less distractions, a way to save time, etc.
This fun set of questions focus on fragility. If you don’t already know, The Three Little Pigs is a fairy tale about three pigs who built homes out of straw, sticks, and bricks. A wolf was able to blow down the houses made of straw and sticks, but the house of bricks stood firm because it was built with quality materials.
House of Straw: What is something that is currently broken? It could be something that the whole team already knows about or something that only you know about. For example, what technologies, processes, team dynamics, etc. are broken?
House of Sticks: Is there something that currently works, but has the potential to fail quickly in the future? This question can help drive conversation about what steps your team can take to address it before it’s too late. It can also lead to discussion about how to turn this house of sticks into a house of bricks.
House of Bricks: What is currently stable and solid? This is something that you should keep and do more of if possible. This is also something the team could learn from and try to emulate in the future.
These retrospective questions dive into the topic of perceived value. Since each team member may have a different set of values, this is a great set of questions to really understand what is important to each team member. For this retro, it might be good to require everyone to add one piece of feedback for each question. This will help the team better understand the similarities and differences in each team member’s values.
Keep: What is something that is valuable to your team which they should continue doing?
Add: What isn’t your team doing now that you might want to start doing?
Less: What’s something you shouldn’t completely stop doing, but might want to do less of?
More: What is your team doing that they should be doing more of?
This is a great set of analysis questions to ask when trying to make a strategic decision.This analysis can be applied to your team, a product/feature, or some new technology.
When applied to a team:
- Strengths: What is your team good at? Is there something your team does better than anyone else?
- Weaknesses: What is your team’s weakness? Try to be as honest as possible.
- Opportunities:What opportunities are open to your team?
- Threats: What can threaten or harm your team?
When applied to a product/feature:
- Strengths: What are the strengths of your current product/feature? What is the main thing that gets your customers excited about your product?
- Weaknesses: How might your current product/feature fail?
- Opportunities: Is there an opportunity you might be missing in your feature/product?
- Threats: What threats are there to your product/feature? For example, are there other competitors in the space?
When applied to a new technology:
- Strengths: Is there something particularly good about using a certain new technology? Will it save time, money, be maintainable, require lots of training, etc.?
- Weaknesses: Is there a weakness that you see using this new technology?
- Opportunities: What are the opportunities that come with using this new technology?
- Threats: What threats are there if you adopt this new piece of technology?
This set of questions is great when planning for the future. One good use case for these questions is when your team is looking for ways to improve an existing product.
What is the wind pushing our sails that makes us go fast? What’s the driving force that helps move your team or product forward? What has been proven time and time again to be effective? Is there a special secret sauce that makes you more effective?
What anchors are holding us back? What’s dragging your team or product down? Is there something the team brings up regularly that makes it hard to make progress? Try to be as honest as possible.
What rocks are ahead of us that risk our future? What’s the thing that could sink your “sailboat”? This is a great question to use to help brainstorm ways of avoiding these risks far before you might encounter them.
What is our ideal island destination? Where do you hope your team or product could be? It might be a long road to get there, but don’t hesitate to dream big.