Retrospective idea: starfish

Just as a workman wouldn’t rely on the same tool for every job (unless they have some kind of massive Swiss Army tool), it can be useful for Scrum teams to have a few different retrospective models to draw on. Different approaches help teams to see things from different perspectives.

The starfish retrospective is an extension of the typical three-question retrospective of what went well? what didn’t go well? what could be improved? By asking similar but different questions it can help a team appreciate the practices that are going well as well as consider new ideas. I know scrum masters for whom this is their default retrospective pattern.

Preparation

For this style of retrospective you’ll need:

  • Whiteboard or flipchart paper
  • Post-it notes
  • Sharpies

Before the retrospective, draw a circle on the whiteboard or flipchart paper and then split it into five equal parts. Label these: Start, More, Keep, Less, Stop.

Diagram showing circle separated into five equal parts labelled start, more, keep, less and stop

Running the retrospective

Begin your retrospective as you normally would, perhaps by reading aloud the ground rules and agreeing to Norman Kerth’s prime directive, “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

Next, check that everybody understands what was done during the last sprint, including any significant events.

Then invite the group to brainstorm the various categories one by one using the post-it notes and Sharpies provided. Psychologically, it can be a more positive experience for the team to follow the order: Stop, Less, Keep, More and Start.

Stop

These are activities or practices that do not bring value to the team or which introduce waste.

Less

These are activities or practices that require a lot of effort and but result in little value. They may bring some value but not enough to stop this practice outright.

Keep

These are activities or practices that the team finds useful and would like to continue to do.

More

These are activities or practices that the team identifies as being valuable and which they should focus on doing more of, for example pair programming or increasing the amount of time devoted to backlog refinement.

Start

These are activities or practices that the team wants to bring into the team, perhaps to try as an initial experiment for a few sprints to see if it brings value.

Work through the categories one by one.

  1. Quietly brainstorm ideas for a few minutes. Write each idea on a post-it note. Stick them to the board.
  2. Once everyone has stopped writing, the facilitator should read out the ideas. Allow any new post-it notes to be added that have been inspired by reading them out.
  3. Spend a few minutes discussing each idea to see if everyone is aligned.
  4. Decide on SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) actions.

For the Start category rather than reading out everything, select a single topic to discuss as a group. Spend a few minutes in silence or in pairs to suggest a few ideas about things to start doing to improve the team’s performance, processes or morale or whatever is needed.

Then use ‘dot voting’ to decide which topic to discuss; with dot voting, everyone gets a few small, round stickers to vote on their favourite idea (or use Sharpies and bar-gate tallies).

Again, any actions should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).

Originally posted on my work blog.

Published by

Gareth Saunders

I’m Gareth J M Saunders, 50 years old, 6′ 4″, father of 3 boys (including twins). Enneagram type FOUR and introvert (INFP), I am a non-stipendiary priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church, I sing with the NYCGB alumni choir, play guitar, play mahjong, write, draw and laugh… Scrum master at Safeguard Global; latterly at Sky and Vision/Cegedim. Former web architect and agile project manager at the University of St Andrews and previously warden at Agnes Blackadder Hall.

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