Retrospective using Appreciative Inquiry

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The iteration after looping the loop has been the best yet. Everyone enjoyed it immensely. The team were buzzing and the Product Owner, Product Sponsor and Customer were ecstatic. I really wanted to tap into the positivity and leverage the energy to consolidate our gains in teamwork so I decided to facilitate an appreciative retrospective.

I introduced the retrospective by stating the following affirmative goal:

“During this retrospective, we’ll find ways to amplify our strengths in process and teamwork.”


  1. Norman Kerth’s Retrospective Prime Directive.
  2. Check-in (5 min) – To get each person talking, ask every person to check-in by showing their appreciation for someone else on the team. They should say something like: “I would like to thank Joe for his patience during our pairing session.”
  3. Brainstorming (5 min) – Gather data by asking the team to brainstorm enjoyable events, team strengths, and successes. Have them write each one on a color-coded post-it note.
  4. Futurespective brainstorming (10 min) – To begin generating insights ask the team the following question on a different color post-it notes: “Imagine we could time travel to the end of the next iteration/release. When we arrive there and converse with our future selves, we hear that it was the most productive, most satisfying effort we’ve ever worked on. What
    do you see and hear in that future time?”
  5. Affinity mapping (15 min) – Ask the team to group related post-it notes and assign each group a name.
  6. Dot voting (5 min) – Tell the team to examine the groups again and to think about the things they identified in the future, and then ask: “Building on our successes to date and given our team strengths what do we really want to sustain?” When they’ve taken a minute to think ask them to dot-vote in order to identify what (group) they want to sustain going forward.
  7. Identify the take-away actions (20 min) – Now the team needs to decide what to do. Ask the question: “What actions should we take to amplify our strengths in process and teamwork that will help us build towards the successes we have foreseen?” Facilitate a discussion to identify one or two actions, note them on index cards and take them into the next iteration’s planning game.

A good result

The format above worked well. It generated the following actions to carry forward:

  • Strive for more vertical slices.
  • Ask for help and offer help to others.
  • Pair promiscuously.

Retrospective output

There was lots of fun and many smiling faces, it relaxed everyone and put them in a positive frame of mind, which helped the planning game afterwards go smoothly.

Simon Baker
Simon Baker
Simon Baker is chief swashbuckler at Energized Work, a guerrilla technology lab based onboard HMS President in London. Simon cofounded Energized Work and in 2009 received the Agile Alliance Gordon Pask Award. He speaks internationally about applying agile and lean principles and techniques in business, software development, and information technology. With 22 years experience delivering software in the media, retail, healthcare, financial services and banking sectors, Simon is a leader doing things differently to find out what matters and get the right things done in the right way. He isn't afraid to question conventional thinking and disrupt the status quo. Simon feels strongly that work shouldn't feel like work and he has a track record creating exciting working conditions that help people change the way they deliver software for the better.

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