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4Ls Retrospective:
Liked, Learned, Lacked, & Longed For

There is nothing like some great alliteration to stick in your mind and roll off the tongue. Perhaps that’s why we love to run project retrospectives that focus on what teams Liked, Learned, Lacked, & Longed For. 😁 Also known as a 4Ls retrospective. This popular technique is loved by agile leaders for its simplicity and ability to help teams establish both short and long term goals.

A 4Ls retrospective is a great option if you want to...

Highlight both positive and negative processes through the lens of growth.

Run a retrospective meeting that examines both past performance and future experiments in equal parts.

Preparing for the exercise

Before the retrospective starts, the facilitator selects this retrospective template from the options in Retrium's retrospective exercises toolbox.

Setting the Stage

To start the retrospective the facilitator should explain the meaning of the 4Ls. If the team is new to the technique, take some time to ensure everyone understands and agrees on the meaning of each L.


  • What did the team really enjoy about the iteration? In particular, what went better than expected? Emphasize the positive.
  • Learned
  • What new things did the team learn during the iteration? These can be technical things (like the importance of unit testing) or nontechnical things (like a new and effective way to keep a key stakeholder informed).
  • Lacked
  • What things could the team have done better during the iteration?
  • Longed For
  • What things did the team desire to have during the iteration that were not available? Again, these can be technical (like the need for a continuous integration server) or nontechnical (like the desire for more face time with the Product Owner).

    Set the team’s expectation for how long the retrospective should take (30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the team). After the facilitator makes sure the entire team is aware of the procedures and everyone feels comfortable, the team is ready to run the retrospective.🏃


    To get off the starting line, the facilitator creates a timebox of 10-15 minutes to brainstorm ideas that will be added to each column. In order to hear a variety of honest feedback, make sure your retrospective tool allows participants to keep their ideas private and waits to show off notes until everyone is done.  (Spoiler alert! Retrium does this!) When the timebox expires, the participants should finish adding their ideas to the column chart.


    Sometimes team members are on the same 📖  page and create notes that contain related topics. Other times team members may have a different point of view. 🤔 Luckily, there is a way to make sure everyone’s topics can be reviewed while also saving time. Grouping! By asking participants to collaboratively group ideas into logical themes the team can read through all the notes and make sure that major topics are discussed. For example, you might see that seven notes contained comments about tools, so it sounds like the team wants to discuss “tooling.” Or did bugs pop up in several notes? Then “testing” might be a solid topic to explore during the discussion phase.

    Announce a new timebox (10-15 minutes) and encourage the participants to actively discuss the grouping of themes and ideas.

    Dot Voting

    If there are a lot of ideas or groups to discuss, it can be challenging to structure the discussion in a meaningful way, especially if you have a variety of shareholders in the retro.  If this is the case, the facilitator can opt to use Dot Voting to find a collective prioritization for the discussion. Each team member is given a certain number of votes to indicate their preference for a specific topic or group of sticky notes or cards. Participants can allocate these votes as they see fit, placing all votes on one topic or distributing them to reflect other priorities.


    Now it’s time for the discussion! The facilitator should announce the timebox for a discussion of the groups (20-40 minutes should be enough). If dot voting was used, then the team should discuss the groups in prioritized order. Retrium generates this automatically in a sorted list. If dot voting was not used, the facilitator can choose the order of discussion. Depending on how many topics the team has to discuss,  the facilitator can choose to timebox the discussion of each individual idea as well (for 5 or 10 minutes). The advantage of this approach is that it tends to keep the conversation focused and moving at a reasonable pace.

    But that isn’t all the facilitator should be tracking! Retrospectives are all about trying to find ways to improve, so after each discussion topic has been covered, the facilitator should write down any action items that the team can work on in the next sprint and add them to the action plan.

    By the end of the discussion, there should be a clear vision 🔭  of how the team’s project or iteration went and the action plan for growth possibilities going forward.

    Ready to give the 4Ls retrospective technique a try?

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