Retrospectives: a fresh look

Throughout this blog I’d like to introduce you to some different Retrospective techniques, s0 you can jazz things up and try something new. Using these new techniques, you might uncover something that’s happening within your team that hasn’t been addressed or discussed before, which is a great outcome. I have provided references to find out more detailed instructions for each technique, and my own personal insights on these Retrospectives.


Retrospectives are fairly common among Agile teams, but it sometimes seems that every team uses the same format:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work so well?
  • What still puzzles me?


Retro One: Speed Boat

Speed boat1 is a creative Retrospective technique that gets your team thinking about how the team is currently going and what the future looks like. The team draws a number of elements on a whiteboard that are representative:

  • A boat – This is the team
  • A gust of wind pushing the boat forward – What could push our team further towards achieving our goals
  • An anchor holding the boat back – What is currently hold us back from achieving our goals
  • An iceberg in the distance – What is something that could really damage the team in the future

By asking the team to draw these elements they will have a visual indicator to connect to each theme during the Retrospective. The team will then write notes against each point and discuss as a team once finished. Action items can be raised out of the discussions in order to help the team achieve their goals and/or avoid catastrophes in the future.

I found this technique to be useful at important phases on the project (i.e. as you’re kicking off the project, when you’re getting close to releasing) as it prompts the discussions mentioned above. It’s also a bit of fun to see who the artists are among the team.


Retro Two: Jeopardy

Loosely based on the game show, this Retrospective technique aims to understand what opinions people have about a different topic related to the team. After you have prepared by drawing a Jeopardy2 game board on a whiteboard ask each team member to write a one word or short phrase answer about what they thought about the last Iteration. The team member must think of the question that is the answer to what they have provided. It’s important that everyone keeps their question to themselves.

The next step is to get the team to guess what each other’s question was. The team member will also tell everyone what their question was. Hearing what everyone thought the question was will bring out the different opinions people had about the topics and can get the discussion going if there are conflicting opinions. The discussion should naturally bring out action items on how you can improve as a team.

This technique was quite different to any other Retrospective that I’ve been involved in and really prompted a lot of discussion. Especially when people didn’t agree with each other.


Retro Three:  The Appreciative Retrospective

Retrospectives seem to focus on what’s going so well, so the Appreciative Retrospective3 solely focuses on positive feedback. The idea of this technique is to reflect on what have been the:

  • Strengths of our team in the last iteration/the project
  • Successes of our team in the last iteration/the project
  • Events during the last iteration/the project

How this works is to use colour co-ordinated sticky notes (against the three different topics) that the team will write notes against these three topics. This starts off with just focusing on the last iteration/the project. The team will discuss the items mentioned and give eachother a pat on the back. Remember, we’re keeping it all positive.

The next step is to gaze into the future and think about what will our strengths be, what will our successes be, and what will be the positive events. Once you have discuss what the future looks like, the next step is to come up with a plan of attack to make the team’s ideal future a reality.

What I found with this technique is that it gives everyone a break from the negative aspects of Retrospectives and provides them with a structured way to provide positive feedback. The action plan for how to become a better team brings out some innovative ideas. This is because the team is thinking without limitations. My own team had some great outcomes from this Retrospective technique. We decided to proactively adopt a new tool, and to use our Story Wall to co-ordinate our release plan.

Regularly changing the format of Retrospectives provides new insights into how your team can learn from the past in order to improve for the future. It also keeps this re-occuring ceremony fresh with a different approach each time. So for your next Retrospective, why not try one of these techniques?


Further reading

If you would like to find even more techniques check out the following resources:



  1. Speedboat Retrospective
  2. Jeopardy Retrospective
  3. Appreciative Retrospective


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