Tuesday 27 February 2018

Retrospective workshop facilitators guide

Recently I’ve held a workshop for World retrospective day http://worldretroday.com @Novi Sad location, as part of the Agile Coaching Serbia initiative to join this worldwide event.

It was the second time I held this workshop, and we are planning to organise it for the 3rd time soon. Below you can find instructions, in case you want to facilitate similar event yourself. The main purpose of the workshop is to raise awareness with the participants on how important retrospectives are, and also to teach them activities and games that can be used for different retrospectives phases.

The workshop is about retrospectives, but game that was used for simulation of the project iterations is “Ball point game” by Boris Gloger https://scrumology.com/from-the-archives-the-ball-point-game/.

The goal of this interesting and fun game is to get as many balls through the team as possible within two minutes.

Rule subset of the game that we used in this workshop is:
  • Everyone is part of one big team. 
  • Each ball must have air-time.
  • Each ball must be touched at least once by every team member.
  • Balls cannot be passed to your direct neighbour to your immediate left or right.
  • Each ball must return to the same person who introduced it into the system.
We played 4 iterations, and after each of the first 3 iterations there was a retrospective, each time based on different activities and games. Most of the workshop time is retrospective time.

As you may already know from the great book "Agile retrospectives, Making good teams great" by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, there are 5 different phases in a retrospective:
  1. Set the stage - helps people focus on the work at hand
  2. Gather data - creates a shared picture of what happened
  3. Generate insights - creates list of potential experiments and improvements 
  4. Decide what to do - time to pick top items and plan what to do
  5. Close the retrospective - wrap-up and express appreciation
The stage in the workshop was set only once in the beginning, and there was one closure in the end (for the time of the workshop this was optimal). From the other side, each of 3 retrospectives had their own phases Gather data, Generate insights and Decide what to do

Below you can find overview of the workshop activities from the beginning to the end. For the majority of these games detailed instructions can be found in the book “Agile retrospectives, Making good teams great”. For others, http://gamestorming.com is good place to read more details. Few are adapted myself. 

Introduction - 10min:
Introduction to the goals and content of the workshop, retrospectives in general and 5 different stages of retrospectives.

Set the stage phase - 10min:
Team stands in the circle. Each person says in few words one thing that is on their mind. Facilitator holds a box. Everyone who has some concerns not related to the workshop writes it on a piece of paper and puts it in this box. In this way team shifts focus to the workshop and puts worries aside.

Explanation of Ball point game - 5min:
Facilitator explains the rules and makes sure all questions about game are addressed.

Iteration 1 - 40min:

  • 2min planning
  • 2min iteration (ball point game)
  • The rest of the iteration is retrospective (~35min):
    • Gather data - Satisfaction histogram (everyone rates their satisfaction with how team played on scale 1-5). Provide visuals of the status for further discussion and analysis (same technique will be used also for the iteration 2).

    • Generate insights - Brainstorming in "round robin" fashion. Pass a "talking token" around the circle. Only the person holding token can talk. It's OK to pass when your turn comes. 
    • Decide what to do - Prioritise with dots. Each team member needs to put 5 dots next to whichever idea they want. Ideas with most dots win. 

Iteration 2 - 40min:
  • 2min planning
  • 2min iteration (ball point game)
  • The rest of the iteration is retrospective (~35min):
    • Gather data - Satisfaction histogram (same as in iteration 1). The idea here is to compare this diagram with the satisfaction diagram from previous iteration.
    • Generate insights - "Free for all" brainstorming. People call out ideas at random.
    • Decide what to do - NUF test. For each idea, people mark on scale 1-5 how they think idea is new, useful or feasible. All marks next to each idea are summed up to get the idea score. Ideas with the highest score win.
Iteration 3 - 40min:
  • 2min planning
  • 2min iteration (ball point game)
  • The rest of the iteration is retrospective (~35min):
    • Gather data - "prouds & sorries". People think about the iteration, and use stickers in one colour to note positive highlights, and in another colour to mark negative highlights. After that team has discussion about what patterns can be seen in their notes, which prepares them for generating insights. 

    • Generate insights - "silent" brainstorming. People have up to 5mins to individually generate and write down ideas. After that "round robin" brainstorming  is used.
    • Decide what to do - 100 euro test. Participants imagine situation where they have total of 100 euros to invest in different ideas from previous step. Sum of all money per idea is the idea score. Ideas with the highest score win.
Open discussion - 20min:
Initiate open discussion about retrospective activities and games used, pros&cons of each and their comparison. I promise this is the very valuable part :) 

Workshop closure - 10min: 
Team stands in the circle again. Team members appreciate others for helping them, contributing to the team, solving a problem, etc. Offering an appreciation is optional. 

More details for facilitators:

  • Number of people - 20 max;
  • Materials - Box for putting concerns aside, papers, balls, a big basket for balls, flip chart papers hanged on the wall, plenty of markers and stickers;
  • Total time - Approx. 3 hours total.

In every day rush, people often forget how important it is to stop and think about what could be improved. By using 3 retrospectives, the team in this workshop succeeded to improve their results ~1200% :)

Feedback on the workshop was very positive. I hope you can use this guide to hold something similar, or that this post will help you succeed with your projects. 


  1. Hi Dragana,
    Thank you for this post. I was looking for a way to convince my 2 teams that retrospectives are very important. I am definately going to try your workshop idea. I will let you know how it went!
    Kind regards,

    1. Glad to hear that Rob, it will be a big step forward for your team if you start with retrospectives. Looking forward to hear how the workshop went!