Dear sprint, I hate you …

The german version of this post can be found here.
Retrospectives and Lessons Learned belong to the most important things in project management, traditional as well as agile. Many teams, project managers, Scrum Masters and other people know and appreciate this fact. But sometimes I encounter teams not willing to have a retrospective meeting. “It’s always the same”, “It’s boring”, “I can’t think of anything to improve”, “Nothing will happen afterwards” are reasons I hear. This made me think about ways to make retrospectives more interesting and fun. One thing I came up with is making the team write love letters and hate letters together.

During my Scrum training some years ago I learned to facilitate a retrospective in the following way:

  • do some storytelling as a warm up
  • write up to three things on separate cards that went well during the last sprint and that should be kept in this way
  • mental separator (show a funny video, play a game, tell a joke)
  • write up to three things on separate cards that from the last sprint that can be improved
  • derive action points from the things to improve and the things to keep

Experienced teams know this agenda and get bored by it after some time. Often they skip the storytelling to shorten the meeting. Now is a good time to blow in some wind of change, e.g. by love letters and hate letters. I got to know these during a gaming session by Danny Kovatch while attending the AgileEE 2010.

At the beginning of the retrospective I make the team split up into groups of three to five people. Then I ask each group to write two letters to the sprint:

  • A love letter, beginning with “Dear sprint, I love you so much …”, which contains the great stuff from the sprint
  • A hate letter, beginning with “Dear sprint, I hate you …”, which contains stuff to be improved

Each group is free to write the letter in their own style. Some groups prefer a bulletpoint list, some teams write really nice letters and have a lot of fun finding the right phrasing of what they want to say. Depending on the size of the groups it makes sense to define a timebox of 10 to 15 minutes per letter.

Afterwards each group reads their love letter to the other group(s) which in return try to extract the “things that went well” and write them on cards to put on the wall. I usually use green cards for good stuff and red cards for stuff to improve. If the team is too small to be divided into groups they create the cards on their own but should write the letter anyway, because the interactive process of talking about the stuff and finding a common phrasing is the important part.

After working with the love letters you should offer some kind of mental separator to make sure, good and bad stuff is not mixed in the minds of the people. Usually I show a short funny videoclip from Youtube.

Afterwards you do the same procedure with the hate letters and suddenly you have a wall full of cards and you can make the team start deriving action points from them. Make sure you ask the team to define owners for the action points afterwards, otherwise everyone will think that someone else will take care.

When exercising this kind of facilitating a retrospective I observed a lot of laughter and fun. Of course you can’t do it always in this way from now on since it will get boring after some time as well, but if you have your own mix of how to facilitate retrospectives you can make sure it never get’s boring.

I’m very interested in your ways to do retrospectives. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch or to comment on this blogpost.

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