Retrospective Kickstarter: Sprint Timeline

We continuing introducing the 16 exercises from the Retrospective Cheat Sheet.
So far we've talked about Mad Sad Glad Afraid and One Word Retrospective.


This one is called Sprint Timeline helps individuals refresh their memories and build a collective story of the sprint.

Most of us are bad at remembering what we did yesterday. And I’m not even speaking here about remembering what the others did. This exercise helps to recreate a group story of the last sprint.


Use a masking tape depicting a timeline. Couple of meters is a good size for a two-week sprint. 


Then ask everyone to write silently for few minutes on post-its: I ask to think of the events that happened within the sprint and are important to be remembered. Anything goes here: parties, sick leaves, releases, meetings, conflicts, surprises. One event per a post-it.


After writing is done, ask people to come up one by one and tell their stories by sticking their post-its chronologically. You may want to limit time per person. Say to 1 or 2 minutes.


Additionally, ask people to draw smileys on the post-its represent- ing the emotional state of the events.


That also works great for longer time-slices, like for instance quarterly releases. Actually, the longer the period being retrospected, the better this tool works. 


Once the collective memory is there it is so much easier to get a deeper dive into specifics of the previous sprint with activities like Sprint Perfection Game, Working Well - Needs Fixing or More-Less-Keep-Stop-Start.


See the the Retrospective Cheat Sheet for more details on these exercises.

Retrospective Kickstarter Plus A Cheat Sheet

"Sprint Timeline" is one of the 16 powerful exercises that I've been using most often facilitating different retrospectives: from a single team looking back one sprint to a multi-team group retrospecting a whole many-month release.


Combining these 16 exercises is giving you more than 250 different agendas (should be enough for the next few years!) - so go and get the Retrospective Cheat Sheet together with a mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter that helps you get prepared for your next kicking-ass retrospective.


Retrospective Kickstarter: Mad Sad Glad Afraid

Retrospective activity: mad sad glad afraid
Retrospective activity: mad sad glad afraid

Goal: helps release a heavy emotional steam and get mentally ready for the meeting.


This is the well-known check-in exercise from the Core Protocols by McCarthy's and the book Software for Your Head.


Being mad, sad, glad, or afraid are the essential, fundamentals emotions we all share. Our feelings can seen as cocktails made out of these four simple ingredients. So teaching your team to share their feelings by using these four emotions is a lesson of mindfulness and self-awareness.


How to run this exercise? Simply write these four emotions on a flip-chart or a white board and ask everyone share what’s on their mind using any combinations of these four elementary emotions. People share in a round-robin manner: one by one. No discussions or comments allowed at this point.


Some people will just say few words, while the others... well if you're lucky this exercise helps people speak up of something unspoken yet deeply present.


But in some occasions, when we all know something serious has happened by no one is speaking about this aloud, this activity can be a real saver. As it helps people unload their mental weight by associating with and then speaking their feelings.  


Like in the situations when there is a big smelly elephant has shitted in the room, when something had happened that is on everyone’s mind, but no one speaks about, like: a very bad customer review, an co-worker has just announced she is leaving the company, our company got acquired by Microsoft (no f**ing way!), or the sprint was very special in some other unusual ways...


I do this exercise every time I sense the team got distracted from our product and teamwork. Usually by something external and uncontrolled.


This exercise, if taken seriously, creates a very deep impact on the atmosphere and opens up the space in the retrospective for deeper thoughtful conversations.


The original instructions of the protocol guides everyone to say "you're welcome" after each person's done sharing. This ritual creates a little ceremony and welcomes people, regardless of  what they feel and think. If this sounds too weird for your team, leave it out or create your own little ceremony fitting the team's culture.


Once the team has "checked in" you as a retrospective facilitator can move onto the context of the recent sprint and focus on process improvements with activities like: Constellations, One Word Retrospective, Last Retro Follow-up or Sprint Timeline.


See the the Retrospective Cheat Sheet for more details on these exercises.

Retrospective Book Plus a Cheat Sheet

"Mad Sad Glad Afraid" is one of the 16 powerful exercises that I've been using most often facilitating different retrospectives: from a single team looking back one sprint to a multi-team group retrospecting a whole many-month release.


Combining these 16 exercises is giving you more than 250 different agendas (should be enough for the next few years!) - so go and get the Retrospective Cheat Sheet together with a mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter that helps you get prepared for your next kicking-ass retrospective.


Retrospective Kickstarter: One Word Retrospective

Below is one of the exercises I usually start a retrospective with. Why? Because it is very simple yet powerful. You have your participants joined the meeting, so physically they are present. But how mindful are they? It usually takes a while to "arrive" mentally to a meeting after your body takes a seat.


So this activity is designed to help participants start building a connection of how they feel about the last sprint. That's the main purpose of this activity. And it is a called a "one word" because you're asking for a quick association - ideally just one word by asking "which was the weather like for you in the sprint?"


A secondary and less obvious purpose of this activity is to give everyone a chance to speak. The earlier you do this on a meeting (any meeting not just a retrospective), the more engagement you can expect from your participants to be. Asking everyone to say one word at the very beginning of a meetings sends a very strong message to everyone: you are invited here to talk and share what's on your mind, you opinion is very important, active participation is what we are looking for here.

One Word Retrospective

Goal: help people connect with the meeting topic; create a more relaxing atmosphere; open up sharing space that welcomes people talking.


The idea is simple: let everyone in a round-robin fashion share one word describing the last sprint.


People can pass if they want to (this applies to any retrospective activity we are inviting our participants to join). They always have a chance to pass - this creates safety.


My favourite example is to ask for the weather: what was the weather like for you in the last sprint?


Watch for different answers and see whether you can use those metaphors and discrepancies of different weather kinds during to pull for more story telling.


I remember once in a a team we were doing this exercise as a retro opening and one person who usually prefered to stay silent took his turn said that the last sprint for him was “partially cloudy with a high chance of meatballs falling from the sky”.


This has definitely set the stage for that retro. And it was a good ice-breaker after all!


After the warm-up and an ice-breaker with the One Word Retrospective you can move on to re-creating a Sprint Timelime. Or if you feel there is something in the air that prevents the team from focusing on the future and the process improvement do a Check-In: Mad Sad Glad Afraid.


Alternatively consult with the Retrospective Cheat Sheet to see which other retrospective activities that might fit at this stage.

Variations To Check-In?

Yes! Experiment with what might work better for your team - don't get stuck with weather. Try cars, sports, countries, journeys, landscapes, operating systems, seasons, names of movies, musical bands...


Sometimes I bring photos for people to choose from. Below there are eight landscape pictures I've used in the past with good success:

  • download them (below)
  • print them (in colors, few copies each)
  • and invite participants to pick one that describes the last sprint the best.

I've also seen participants combining different pictures together in crazy ways. Whatever they do - it is fine.  So expect to be surprised. Defer any judgment and try to stay curious.


You may ask:

 - Please help us see how does the chosen landscape describe for you the last sprint?

 - Which aspect of the sprint felt in particular like that?


For distributed retrospectives I used to put all eight images on one slide to look at and choose from. This also worked fine. But of course physical artefacts are nicer. See what works best for your group. If you are not sure - ask them!


Eight landscapes
Adobe Acrobat Document 32.2 MB

RETROSPECTIVE Book Plus a Cheat Sheet

"One Word Retrospective" is one of the 16 powerful exercises that I've been using most often facilitating different retrospectives: from a single team looking back one sprint to a multi-team group retrospecting a whole many-month release.


Combining these 16 exercises is giving you more than 250 different agendas (should be enough for the next few years!) - so go and get the Retrospective Cheat Sheet together with a mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter that helps you get prepared for your next kicking-ass retrospective.


Kill Your Retrospectives: Five Effective Steps

Advice #5

Start collecting lists of all issues risen on retrospectives. Until you have them all.


Yes, simply retrospective after retrospective keep adding outstanding problems to an ever-growing list of documented and known issues.


Until one day someones says: "Hey. Why to have this meeting? We already have all the issues listed, huh?"


Advice #4

Always keep action items in Excel sheets on you local hard drive.


Yes, seriously. Being a ScrumMaster you should make sure the action plan is not lost in between the meetings. So keep it secure. Microsoft Excel is probably the best choice. No one would find it and mess it up.


Keep doing that until one day someones says: "Hey. Why to have this meeting? We never do what we agree to do, huh?"



Advice #3

Never remind or check for progress on planned action items.


Yes, plan your retrospective agendas new and fresh every time. Play with post-its, balls, balloons, words. Make it easy-going and fun. And never bring the last retro's action plan. It will create a sour feeling and awkward pauses. It will break the spirit.


Keep doing that until one day someones says: "Hey. Why to have this meeting? We never do what we agree, huh?"


Advice #2

Volunteer and assign yourself planned action items.


Leading by example and servant leadership are here to stay. So volunteer for all action items. If you can't make them, who can? You're the process leader in the end, that's how you lead: pray what you preach.


In the end, you will never find the needed capacity to do all that is planned on you. Because this is not the only meeting where you show how to volunteer.


So keep doing that until one day someones says: "Hey. Why to have this meeting? We never do what we agree - even our ScrumMaster, huh?"


Advice #1

Let participants complain, justify and lay blame.


Retrospectives are to release the steam. So make that happen. For every issue addressed help to find someone or something to blame it on.


And if all the options are already taken - help to justify. There are always a set of good arguments to be found why something had or hadn't happen.


Until one day ...



Now seriously - do quite the opposite!


And see if the retrospective cheat sheet and the accompanying book can help you make your retrospectives affective and efficient.


Kickstarting Retrospectives: Workshop @AGILEEE 2016 in Russian

At Agile Eastern Europe Season 7 - I ran a workshop based on my recent mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.


The biggest surprise was that there was much more participants than we could physically fit in the room. Woah! This was really unexpected. 


Luckily we were able to find a room to re-run the workshop on the second day. In total I had 30+26 people attending. Considering the size of the conference (around 300 people) that's quite nice.





Facilitating agile retrospectives is one of the six essential ScrumMaster's skills that I constantly teach to groups of ScrumMasters in different companies over Skype/Hangout.


Thank you guys for joining me at AGILEEE! That was really nice.


Agile Retrospective Kickstarter is now bundled

Sprint Retrospective is the only Scrum ceremony that has books written about. There is no book on how to run Daily Scrums or Sprint Plannings or Sprint Reviews. Guess why?


Yes, running Sprint Retrospective is the hardest one of all to facilitate and also to participate. Especially when it is done poorly or when the same agenda is repeated over and over again. Last year I've shared my top favourite 16 retrospective exercises as a Retrospective Cheat Sheet that is easy to use and helps to combine those activities in a lot of unique and fun retrospectives.


But now there is more to it.


While the English version of my mini-book has reached 500 readers, the book is now made available in various translations and bundles with other books on agile retrospective for a much better price.



Starving for information on running agile retrospectives? Would eat an elephant? Well, here it is!


This bundle contains all six books on retrospectives that are out there on Leanpub. A great offer. And a great addition to your virtual book shelf. Worth sharing with your teammates and fellow ScrumMasters.

"Agile Retrospective" bundle @Leanpub
"Agile Retrospective" bundle @Leanpub


Since the book of Luis Gonçalves and Ben Linders is also available in several languages, the Agile Retrospective Kickstarter is now available as a two-book bundle in those languages.


This is a specially good deal as these books cover different aspects on preparing and running retrospectives. They go together quite well. And is also cheaper to buy as a bundle.

"Rétrospectives agiles" - a bundle in French
"Rétrospectives agiles" - a bundle in French

"Retrospektywy Agile" - a bundle in Polish.
"Retrospektywy Agile" - a bundle in Polish.

"Agile ретроспективы" - a bundle in Russian
"Agile ретроспективы" - a bundle in Russian

So now you can't say there is lack of information on how to run fun and beneficial retrospectives. So master this art. Your teams will really appreciate this.


Running extended New Year’s resolution retrospectives with Focused Agile Coaching™

Facilitating collaborative New Year’s resolutions has also been known in the space of agile coaching for quite a while. The idea behind this is to run a collective ideating and dreaming session. The goal in to help the team see itself in a year from now and then also possible derive some actions.


So one could see collective New Year's resolutions as one of many ways of running futurespectives.

In this article I’d like to share a very practical piece of advice on how one could run such team dreaming parties in quite a structured and a result-oriented manner. Also without making it too fluffy and groundless. This is done with a help of Focused Agile Coaching.


Focused Agile Coaching (or the FOCACCIA method) is a set of thinking tools and coaching techniques that I've been designing. They are to help co-create coaching vision and then slice it into measurable and observable coaching releases.


Multi-Site and Distributed Retrospectives

This is a chapter from my mini-book "Agile Retrospective Kickstarter".

All of the exercises I collected in the Retrospective Cheat Sheet work nicely when your team is colocated, namely is in the same physical room.


That’s the sweet spot. Not only for the retrospectives, but in general for teamwork and all-the-agile, as we value rich face-to-face collaboration.


But what if your team is dispersed and the team members are permanently work from different locations? Are you doomed? Or what if the team is colocated in an offshore location with its Product Owner who works from the head office? How can retrospectives for such a setup can be run?

Indeed there are tricks, here are the key ones on running distributed multi-site retrospectives:

 1. Pick a tool that allows simultaneous writing, Google Docs or something similar. Create a single document and share its link across all the locations. After the meeting the same document can be referred from the retrospective summary. So it also allows easier documenting. But don’t use any tool if you’re colocated!

Please note that the commonly used wiki-like collaboration tools usually don’t allow for simultaneous editing. Moreover they usually are not showing the immediate progress someone else  typing on the other side of the wire. So pick the right tool. And prefer free ones - you can easily change them.

2. At any costs avoid long monologues over a wire, that’s the worst engagement killer.


To achieve this, we need to decide how to adapt the exercises for the distributed scenario. Here are three main categories:

A: exercises that don’t require a lot of talking and can be easily done sequentially in a round robin fashion across multiple locations;

B: the ones that can be done simultaneously in the tool by typing in from multiple locations at the same time, and otherwise will just waste time and ruin engagement;

C: and the other exercises that require more talking; these ones need to be run simultaneously in small colocated groups and at all locations at the same time.


Here is the classification of applicable activities from the Retrospective Cheat Sheet by categories:

A: Short exchanges

Run sequentially with everyone involved

B: Long talking

Run as break-out activities in groups

C: Requires writing, drawing, post-its

Run simultaneously in groups using the tool


#2: "CHECK-IN: MAD, SAD, ..."






#13: "BREAK OUT"










#16: “FUN VS. USE”

As you can see most of the activities are suitable for a distributed multi-site retrospective, exception for probably the #3: CONSTELLATIONS.


Some activities can be done the either way, for instance the #6: PROUD - THANKFUL - LEARNED can be done in the overall group after a short silent writing activity or within break-out groups. I’d choose the second option and whenever there is a possibility to do at least a part of an activity in smaller colocated groups - that’ll be my choice. Why? Because it is where the magical power of self-organization emerges. It is really hard to expect the same effect when working with a large dispersed group of people talking over a mic. Such meetings would require more coordination, more steering, more management. That’s wasteful. 

3. When you’re running an A-type exercise, make sure you balance involvement between all the sites, one good way to achieve that is to ask a currently speaking person to call a random name of a remote person to be the next speaker. This also adds a little bit of fun and jelling between the sites. You want more of this.


The B-type activities that require long talking can also be done in smaller groups connected by a video/phone line. For instance, there is an engineering topic that several developers from each location would like to contribute to. During the break-out time-box they can initiate a another video/phone conference among themselves. Once done, they’ll report their converged thinking to the overall group.

4. To be able to choose from these variety of  options your folks need to be aware of them. So make sure you spend some time teaching these collaboration ideas to the team. The  “Set the Stage” phase seems to be the best appropriate for this.

So, these four tricks, 1000 hours of practice - and you’re there. In fact, just any partial application of these ideas will make your remote meetings significantly more productive than the status-quo teleconferences.


How to create retrospective agendas that drive change? How to add more fun and engagement without losing the focus? How to raise the team's willingness to take actions? 


Download my mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.


The book explains in greater details all the 16 exercises of the cheat sheet.


Retrospective Kickstarter Book plus a Retrospective Cheat Sheet


Download your poster!


The Retrospective Cheat Sheet lets you create numerous (actually more than 200) unique agendas for your retrospectives.


It is available in English, French, Spanish, Polish, Russian and other languages!

Get your book!



The mini-book provides the details to the exercises based on the team mood, size, proximity. It is a handy kick-starter for people interested to start up and spice up their agile retrospectives. 


Also available in multiple languages!


Retrospecting A Retrospective: Three Simple Ideas

These exercises are a part of the Retrospective Cheat Sheet.

I recently blogged on 5 common pitfalls of retrospectives, in this post I'll share some ideas how to gather feedback on your retrospectives in order to fine-tune them.

Kaizen vs. Kaikaku

Although the described ideas are suitable for collecting quick feedback on any meeting, I'm sharing there in the context of running agile retrospectives.

Retrospectives as any other activity can and need to be improved over time. And as to anything, you can make radical one-time (kaikaku) or an evolutionary continuous (kaizen) changes.

Don't change the format radically every time, though.

Make a check to see if your retrospectives have any sign of the five retrospective pitfalls:

  • No Actionable Action
  • ScrumMaster Takes It All
  • Complainer's Club
  • Overcooked
  • Yet Another Scrum Meeting 

If yes, then I'd rather recommend you re-think the agenda altogether and do a big revolutionary change (kaikaku). There are many ideas around - just google "retrospective exercises" or use the great Retromat. A radical change can lead faster to a much better sudden improvement than a series of smaller adjustments.

Otherwise, tuning and tweaking continuously might be a good option.

Gathering Quick Feedback

If you're already designing your retros based on the well-known Derby/Larsen retrospective format, then you have a placeholder for the 5th stage is "Close the Retrospective".

If not, just allocate 5 minutes in the end of the meeting. And do one of the following:


Goal: to collect ideas on what attendees liked about the retro (pluses), as well as the improvement points (deltas).



  1. Divide a flip-chart vertically or use two flip-chart sheets. Name the left one "+" and the other one as "Δ".
  2. Explain that any minus point (nonconstructive feedback) can be converted into a delta point (a request to change). Give an example: "we didn't have enough time - it is a minus; let's spend next retro more time on more important topics - a delta".
  3. Ask your attendees to shout what they think was great and what needs to be improved. Scribe as they speak. It is OK to write a summary, e.g. "better timing" for "let's spend next retro more time on more important topics".
  4. Explicitly ask for several pluses before any deltas are shared.
  5. When negative points ("minuses") are shared, help to convert them into deltas before writing them down. Any minus can be converted to a delta.
  6. Keep the sharing going by asking open-ended and encouraging questions, like: "anything else we should consider improving? was there anything else you liked? anyone has any other ideas? how about few more minutes on this?"


Instead of a facilitator scribing the ideas of the attendees one by one (slow and also results in group thinking), ask everyone to write on post-its and stick them to the corresponding side of a flip-chat. 



Ask people to dot vote on the deltas to get the priorities of improvements.

Sources: learned in slightly different variants from Sergey Dmitriev and others.


Goal: measure satisfaction rate of the attendees from the retrospective.


  1. By using a coloured masking tape on a door (wall) create a vertical axe.
  2. Mark the top of the axe with a 😀, a middle part with a 😐,  and the bottom with a 😕.
  3. Ask the attendees while leaving the room stick a post-it to represent their feeling of their time invested. Meaning: how wise their time was spent on the meeting.


  • Use a range: e.g. 1..5 or 1..10 instead of the smileys.
  • Instead of asking people to stick a post-it while leaving, ask them to stay and when all the post-its are up on the wall, open up a discussion asking everyone in a round-robin: "what do we need to change on the next retro, so that you would put your post-it higher?" 

Sources: book Agile Retrospectives, Perfection Game and others.

3. FUN vs. USE

Goal: measure how fun and how useful was the retrospective.

An extension to the "Return on Time Invested"


  1. Follow the instructions from the "Return on Time Invested" with the vertical axe for "fun".
  2. Add a horizontal axe "use" and separate it into three parts: "little or no use", "quite OK" and "super". You can write these statements on post-its close to the axe.
  3. Do exactly as you'd do with the "Return on Time Invested", asking the attendees to stick one post-it while leaving.


  • Instead of asking to stick empty post-its (what a waste??) ask to write improvement ideas on them!
  • Once all post-its are up there, use a dot-voting technique to have the ideas prioritized.

What To Do With The FeedbacK?

Well, you asked for it? Now work on it! :)

Seriously, it is a big topic. And as I said, there are many books and articles written that provide enough inspiration for experimenting with retrospective agendas.

One thing to remember though: your ultimate goal as a ScrumMaster is to teach retrospectives to the team so that they are able to run them themselves. Keeping this in mind: you'd better pair up with the teammates on designing and running the team-level retrospectives.

It is not just about unloading you (which is also good), but it also has a significant impact on team's self-management, level of responsibility and ... and much more than I can't explain in written words.


How to create retrospective agendas that drive change? How to add more fun and engagement without losing the focus? How to raise the team's willingness to take actions? 


Check out my mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.




The book explains in greater details all the 16 exercises of the cheat sheet.


Why Your Retrospectives (May) Suck

I work as a ScrumMaster since 2005. So my first retrospective was about 10 years ago. Many many retrospectives before. Not all of them were shiny and glittering. And the more I run them, the more I understand why. There are common reasons why retrospectives may not be effective. Here are the most common pitfalls I've seen in my practice of mentoring ScrumMasters.


A lot is said on the topic of retrospectives. It is actually the only Scrum ceremony that has books written on it. That underlines its importance and also the implied complexity. So I won't be repeating all the theory.  Just my observations.

5. YASM'ism or "Yet Another Scrum Meeting" Syndrome

'Scrum' is nothing but a wrapper around what you had done before your management started to call it 'Scrum'. It has no meaning, its roots haven't grown into the soil of your company culture. People don't expect changes and are not ready to accept their responsibility to shape their work processes.

4. Overcooked

Your retrospectives are a lot of fun.  The ScrumMaster (you?) keeps bringing all these cool games, cards, balls, toys... The format never repeat. It is always new and fun... But the meeting is not taken seriously by the attendees, they come to relax and get entertained. 

3. Complainer's Club

The format of retrospective might include deep discussions on core issues the team brings: customers, users, product managers, other teams... But it is always someone else or something else that the team is blaming and complaining about. Retrospectives is a club where people excuse themselves for not taking actions. 

2. ScrumMaster Takes It All

Blaming culture has been stopped. Now the team is taking it seriously. They discuss obstacles and failures and try to learn from them. They dig and analyze the issues to find the root causes. The ScrumMaster (you?) helps the team brainstorm on possible corrective actions. But at the end of the meeting it is the ScrumMaster's name that is written on all cards. Changes happen, but it is not helping the team grow. 

1. ... And Nothing Changes

Your retrospectives can be as shiny as you want. But if they don't drive the change, they have no value.


How to call the team to take responsibility to the actions? How to check that the planned changes are being made? How to design a retrospective that increases the willingness of the team to take actions?


Check out my mini-book Agile Retrospective Kickstarter.




The book explains in greater details all the 16 exercises of the cheat sheet.