Boring retrospectives – part 2

When your team is operating in short iterations, retrospectives tend to get boring after a while. If you’re working in an agile organization, most suggestions for improvement have been executed and evaluated. The obvious improvement actions have already been identified.

Now, you have two options:

1. Keep doing the same retrospectives, and accept that no more valuable ideas for improvement are found.

2. Change the format of your retrospectives. Go for gold and try to improve on the less obvious stuff.

If you go for option 2, there are great exercises that can help your team going through this process.

For starters, get the book Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby & Diana Larsen. It has a list of activities which you can use to get some variety in your retrospectives and get inspiration to come up with your own variations.

This is one I used recently, which I call ‘Actions centered’. It is based on the ‘Temperature reading’ activity. Similar to the Starfish exercise, it changed our perspective and as a result, we found some new area’s for improvement.

This is how it works,

You draw a big square with a little square in the centre. That’s where the actions go. The area around the small square gets divided into 4 pieces. Each piece serves as a placeholder for the following categories:

  • Appreciations (what did you like during the previous iteration?)
  • Puzzles (general wonderings, things you have no answer to)
  • Risks (future pitfalls that can endanger the project)
  • Wishes (goes further than improvements, your ideal project)

This is how it looks on a flipchart:


Next, everyone gets some time to write up their thoughts for each of the four categories. When everyone’s done, each team member at a time gets to explain one of his notes and sticks them on the corresponding category.

After a previous retrospective with moderate results, this one was a complete success. All four categories were completely filled with post-its. Even better, 6 tangible actions were defined.  We used dot-voting to rank the risks.


I really like the Puzzles category. It gives you the opportunity to get your wonderings into the group, which can lead to discussions and other views on the subject. I believe some of these thoughts wouldn’t end up on the wall if we would have done the classic ‘good / better’ exercise.

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.


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  10. Chinchu

    Hi Nick! I tried this out yesterday with my team. I’m wondering how it felt for you as Scrum Master to also participate in the Retrospective. Especially with respect to Puzzles and Wishes. Were you able to also provide input for these areas? Did you feel responsible for bringing clarity and solving these topics?

    • Hi Chinchu,

      Nice to hear you tried the exercise!
      When I facilitated the exercise as a scrum master, I always try to let the ideas come from the team.
      But sometimes when you have a valuable contribution as scrum master, you can propose them yourself ass well.
      The actions are assigned to whoever can take up the job. Sometimes the scrum master, sometimes the po, sometimes the team member.

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