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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 a project retrospective that focuses on what teams Liked, Learned, Lacked, & Longed For...also known as a 4Ls retrospective! 😁 This popular retrospective format is loved by agile leaders and scrum masters for its simplicity and ability to help teams establish both short and long-term goals for future improvements.

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 4Ls technique 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. While this retrospective technique shines because of its simple framework, make sure you still take some time to ensure everyone understands and agrees on the definition of each L. Remember, shared understanding is the foundation of any successful team activity.

Liked

  • What did the team really enjoy about the previous project cycle? In particular, what went better than expected? Emphasize the positive elements of an otherwise difficult sprint!
  • Learned
  • What new things did the team learn during the last sprint? 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 did the team lack, or, what things could the team have done better during the last iteration?
  • Longed For
  • What support did the team desire during the last iteration? Again, these items can be technical or nontechnical!

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

    Ideation

    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 online retrospective tool allows participants to keep their ideas private during this phase. Taking extra care to create a safe space for everyone increases the likelihood of objective feedback...and we know a handy digital collaboration tool that makes this easier than ever. 😉 When the timebox expires, the participants should finish adding their ideas to the column chart.

    Grouping

    Sometimes agile team members are on the same page 📖  and create notes that contain similar themes. 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 all 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 should be adequate time) and encourage the participants to actively discuss the array of feedback.

    Dot Voting

    If there are a lot of ideas to discuss, it can be challenging to structure the discussion in a meaningful way. 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. Participants can allocate these votes as they see fit, placing all votes on one topic or distributing them to reflect other priorities.

    Discussion

    Now it's time for the discussion! The facilitator should announce the timebox for a discussion of the groups (a 20-40 minute time period should be enough). If dot voting was used, then the team should discuss the groups in prioritized order (Retrium generates the order of discussion automatically). 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! Successful retrospectives are all about trying to find ways to improve, so after each discussion topic has been covered, the facilitator should write down any proposed action items and add them to the action plan. 

    By the end of the discussion, there should be a clear vision 🔭 of how the team's last iteration went, as well as an action plan for future sprints and upcoming projects. Utilizing the 4Ls retrospective template in your upcoming sprint retrospectives will help you understand the emotional perspective of your team, and ensure that the group is on a path towards continuous improvement.

    Ready to give the 4Ls retrospective technique a try?

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