The Starfish Retrospective

In most retrospectives, we´re using the plain “What went good? What went wrong?” – technique via a roundtable, noting down the outcome of this, then start discussing possible solutions for the “wrong” things, coming up with action items to solve them, decide to take the actions, and ask participants for their ROTI (Return of Time Invested).

After having two retrospectives with a quite low ROTI, I discussed with our scrum master what to do to improve this. We decided to change the format of the retrospective and see what impact this has. We did not want to change too much, following the paradigm of small change. And we also did not want to do something too fancy, because we already had the experience, that within our team things are quickly seen as “kindergarten” (which for a try to use a speedboat-retrospective resulted in the worst ROTI ever ;) ).

So after googling a bit and finding the some nice articles, we decided to go do a “check in” exercise at the very beginning, and after that go for a “starfish retrospective”.

As I understood it, the reason for doing a check in exercise is, to prepare the stage and to get everybody in. Furthermore, it is more likely that people, who have already spoken, will speak again during the meeting. After having look through different possible exercises (e.g. the Agile Retrospective Resource Wiki), our scrum master came up with a more team- & product-related one “Which new feature of the last sprint would you present to a customer first?”. The exercise itself went well, but I didn´t see any effect on the more introvert members of the team. But I assume judging about this after just one try isn´t very significant, we should gather more data.

After explaining the five different areas of the starfish (start doing, stop doing, keep doing, more of, less of) we had ten minutes to write down our ideas on post its. After that, we put the post its on the board, explaining them to the rest of the team shortly, and this is the outcome:

Some remarks on that:

  • A lot of items in “keep doing”, so we are aware that there are lot of good things in our way of working, yeah!
  • Nothing in stop doing. This is a bit strange to me, there could be a smell, or maybe an “elephant in the room”.
  • Many post its in the “more of”, this is reflecting reality quite good: We´ve started a couple of things lately, and we want to go further into that direction (e.g. started switching from Scrum to Kanban, and we want to go further on that road)

We then quickly listed the most mentioned topics and started discussing them, mainly items from the “less of” and “more of”, which lead to a few action items.
Finally we closed the session and did a ROTI, which was not extra ordinary, but a good one.

What I personally liked about the starfish is, that it is more future-oriented: What do we want to (not) do? Instead of just looking back; and I think the team felt like that too.

Finally a list of articles I read about retrospective, and the starfish exercise:

What about you and your experiences about retrospectives, changing the format of the retrospective, and the formats you´ve tried so far?

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