Agile Retrospective: Ideas & Activities

Instructor: Stephen Meyer

Stephen has worked as a Project Manager and is PMP certified, as well as certified by the Scrum Alliance.

Project meetings rarely get people excited. However, when done well, Agile Retrospectives can be a fun way to evaluate and improve. This lesson provides ideas and activities for Agile Retrospectives.


Stephanie is planning to transition her project team to an Agile methodology. She knows they will respond well to its focus on people and product, but there will be one area of resistance: meetings. There are a number of meetings and she anticipates her team will push back against Agile Retrospective in particular because it is different from typical meetings. However, she knows that if she can help her team members understand it and make it engaging, they will be on board.

Who, What, and When

Agile Retrospective, or Retrospective, is a meeting for the project team, including developers, testers, project managers, and anyone else involved with completing project work. The goal is to evaluate how the work has been completed and how the team has worked with each other in order to find ways to improve. The meeting occurs multiple times throughout the project, at the end of cycles in which work is completed.


The purpose of Retrospective is improvement for people and/or the product. These improvements are identified, committed to, and carried out by the project team. This empowers the project team and is one of the main benefits Stephanie discusses with her team. Improvements or changes that come from individuals external to the team can feel forced. However, when the team can make decisions and is self-led, the improvements are valuable and more likely to be carried out.

Primary Makeup

Retrospective starts with getting input from each team member and gathering as many ideas and as much feedback as possible. From there, the information needs to be filtered down to a few areas of focus. Finally, action items are determined for each of these areas. For Stephanie's team (which is new to the process) there are activities to help enhance engagement in these areas.

Gathering Input

Getting input from each team member is foundational. Without it, the meeting is ineffective and relatively pointless. The main discussion points focus on what was successful, what was unsuccessful, and how things can be improved. For teams that need more than discussion questions, activities to enhance them can help.

One activity that teams often use is called 'starfish'. It is called this because it involves a diagram with five points that resembles a starfish. The five points can be adjusted to fit the project team, but the general idea involves things that should begin, continue, increase, decrease, and end. Teams can write short answers on post-it notes and attach them to the applicable area.

The starfish used in Agile Retrospective

Another activity that teams use is called 'speed car'. Like starfish, it is a diagram and involves post-it notes; however, speed car involves fewer topics of discussion. The diagram is a race car with a parachute attached. One of the topics discussed is things that push the team forward, increase speed, increase efficiency, etc. represented by the engine. The other topic is things that slow the team down or hold the team back, represented by the parachute.

The speed car used in Agile Retrospective
Parachute Car

Filtering Down and Next Steps

Once the team gives as much input as they can, they must filter what they have to find specific areas on which to focus. The reasoning is simply that it would not be feasible to address every item. It can be difficult to filter the information, especially when each team member has their own opinions and items about which they are passionate. It can be helpful to have an activity that can provide more objective evaluation.

The most common approach to filter involves a chart. First, the team decides on two important attributes for deciding on a solution, such as 'effort' and 'benefit'. Each of these attributes is an axis for the chart. For example, 'effort' forms the y-axis where items that are low effort are placed lower on the chart. 'Benefit' would be the x-axis, where items that offer a larger benefit are placed further to the right in the chart. Next, the team places items on the chart based on their effort and benefit and then chooses the items that are furthest to the right and lowest (i.e. offer the greatest benefit with the least effort).

After the team has identified some specific items on which to focus, the remaining primary focus is to determine next steps. These are action items for the team to accomplish the chosen items. There are typically no activities for this part of the meeting because the team is familiar enough with the items that discussion comes easily. Once the team comes up with tangible steps, its work is complete.

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