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A 7-Step Agenda for Effective Retrospectives

6 Apr 2015 | Remote


These seven steps will help you create a solid retrospective structure that keeps you and your team focused and on-track. It is the time for team members to feel heard. Each important note is written down and acknowledged. Shared notes will trigger conversations. Action items are created. Together, the team will look at different angles and perspectives, and raise the level of awareness.

>> Build the agenda for an online retrospective

You can find all activities listed on this article at FunRetrospectives.com, a site with activities and ideas for making agile retrospectives more engaging.


1. Context

Why is this retrospective being held? What will it cover? Retrospectives, similarly to any other meeting, are more effective if the participants align their expectations before getting into it.

You can start with a pre-defined context or define it in real-time with the participants. But it must be clear to everyone – “This retrospective context is…”.

Below are some sample contexts:

  • In 14 days, our artifact should reach the main production stage.
  • Feature XYZ exploded in production, bringing the servers down for two hours until sysadmin could bring the older version back up.
  • We worked together in the past year and we will work together for another year to come.
  • This retrospective is a bi-weekly recurring Scrum retrospective for the ABC team. We are on Sprint 12 out of 30.

2. Prime Directive

In Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, Norm Kerth introduces the prime directive, a statement intended to set the stage for the retrospective. It says:
“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available and the situation at hand”.

The statement is invaluable for setting the meeting tone. Make it visible to all participants, and read it out loud before running your retrospective activity.

Is this really a retrospective meeting? For team building meeting, you should read the team building prime directive. For futurospective meeting, you should read the futurospective prime directive.

3. Energizer

The energizer, or icebreaker, is a good starter for any team meeting, and is especially valuable for the early stages of team building. It’s designed to warm up the team and promote group interaction. We recommend activities that focus on sharing information, such as names and hobbies. These activities help create a friendly environment and make people more comfortable about participating in the activities that follow.

Sample energizer activities: Collaborative face drawing and Back to back

4. Check-in

Check-in activities gauge the participants’ frame of mind and how they feel about the given context. It is a good next step, as it can narrow down the themes that will be discussed later. It also helps people put aside their concerns and focus on the meeting. Check-ins are usually short activities; think of them as quick bites to tickle everyone’s appetite for the main course, while providing the moderator feedback about participant engagement.  One example: ask each participant to describe his or her feeling—regarding the meeting context—in one word on a post-it note. Group the notes on an open canvas and then ask if anyone wants to share more about their selected word.

Sample check-in activities: Safety check and Happiness radar

5. Main course

The main course is the core of a meeting that seeks to foster continuous improvement. This is where you gather data, check on the team’s morale, talk about the positive stuff, recognize people and seek improvements. These activities drive the team to reflect about the given context, reinforce a shared vision and generate insights. The main course is also the time for team members to feel heard. Each comment is acknowledged and written down so it is visible to the entire team.

Teams that have regular retrospectives as recurring meetings may want to look for alternative main course activities. By varying activities, the team can look at different angles and perspectives, and generate new insights.

Choose the main course wisely, with the participants and purpose in mind. This is the main activity of your meeting; the information you gather and discuss will set the tone for continuous improvement.

Sample retrospective activities: Anchors and Engine and The Peaks and Valleys timeline

Sample futurospective activities: Path to Nirvana and RAID: Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies

Sample team building activities: Defining the team vision statement and Candy Love

6. Filtering

After the main course, you will have a lot of data in front of you. It’s important to have well-defined criteria to decide what will be discussed. Given the meeting’s limited time, it’s possible you’ll have to leave some topics out.

Define the filtering criteria with your team. For example, the team may group notes based on similarity and then discuss the identified clusters. Another possibility is to vote, and then focus on the most-voted topics. Whatever the approach, this will allow you to prioritize and keep your meeting on track.

Sample filtering activities: Dot Voting and Tell and cluster

7. Check out

The meeting is almost over. The team had a great discussion and generated many insights. We recommend that the whole group talk openly about what’s next for the team and what you will do with the findings from your meeting.

Check-out activities help with this closing process. These are very short activities. Think of them as an effective hotel check-out, where the guest (participant) leaves the hotel fast, with the feeling of being heard and giving valuable feedback to the hotel. He might even carry a note or an action item on his luggage.

The Check-out activity result might contain a valuable feedback about the meeting structure and contents. Consider its results when planning or starting the next meeting.

Sample Check-out activities: The Who-What-When Steps To Action and Note to Self.


>> Build the agenda for an online retrospective

Sample agenda

Below are some sample agenda:

retro retro-agenda-sample retro-couple-counselingretro-scrum


This article is by Paulo Caroli and Taina Caetano, authors of the FunRetrospectives website and book.




Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books on business agility). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here.
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