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Run retrospectives with The 4Ls: Liked, Learned, Lacked, & Longed For

Thanks to Mary Gorman and Ellen Gottesdiener


4Ls stands for Liked, Learned, Lacked, & Longed For. 4Ls is a popular, frequently used technique that is simple to set up for the facilitator and easy to understand for the participants. As with all retrospectives, 4Ls should be timeboxed. Depending on the size of the team, 30-60 minutes should be enough.

Use it when you want to...
  • Highlight the positive (liked & learned) as well as the negative (lacked & longed for)
  • Have the team think mostly from a factual (what happened) perspective, rather than an emotional perspective
How it works

Step One: Before the retrospective starts the facilitator should hang four posters on the wall, one for each of the Ls.

4Ls setup in Retrium
4Ls setup in Retrium

Step Two: To start the retrospective the facilitator should explain the meaning of the four Ls. If the team is new to the technique, take some time to ensure everyone understands the importance of each L.

  • Liked: What did the team really enjoy about the sprint? In particular, what went better than expected? Emphasize the positive.
  • Learned: What new things did the team learn during the 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 things could the team have done better during the sprint?
  • Longed For: What things did the team desire to have during the sprint that were unavailable? 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).

Step Three: Ideation. The facilitator should hand out sticky notes to the participants and tell them the timebox for this phase (10-15 minutes should be enough). Participants should keep their sticky notes private so that participants aren't biased by each other's ideas. When the timebox expires, the participants should place their sticky notes on the appropriate poster boards on the wall.

Private ideation in Retrium
Private ideation in Retrium

Step Four: Grouping. Since many sticky notes will likely contain related (or even identical) ideas, participants should group sticky notes into logical themes. Participants can use markers to draw circles around related sticky notes. The facilitator should announce the timebox (10-15 minutes) and encourage the participants to stand up and move from poster to poster to make this part of the retrospective interactive and fun.

Step Five: Dot Voting (optional). If there are a lot of sticky notes and/or groups 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 prioritize the discussion based on the collective desires of the group. The facilitator should announce the timebox (5-10 minutes) and, if the team has never used dot voting before, explain how it works:

  1. Tell each participant that they have a certain number of votes that they can use to indicate their preference for a sticky note or group. Make sure participants understand that they can distribute their votes as they wish. For example, one participant could place all their votes on a single sticky note to indicate how important it is to him or her to discuss that idea. On the other hand, another participant could distribute their votes evenly across many sticky notes.
  2. Have the participants walk up to the poster boards and vote on sticky notes or groups (they can use a marker to place a dot above the sticky they want to vote for).
  3. After voting is complete, the facilitator should sort the sticky notes based on the number of votes each received. This sorted list represents the collective prioritization of the sticky notes.
Dot voting in Retrium
Dot voting in Retrium

Step Six: Discussion. The facilitator should announce the timebox for this phase (20-40 minutes should be enough). If dot voting was used, then the team should discuss the sticky notes in prioritized order. If dot voting was not used, the facilitator can choose the order of discussion. The facilitator can optionally choose to timebox the discussion of each individual sticky note as well (to 5 or 10 minutes). The advantage of this approach is that it tends to keep the conversation on topic and moving at a faster pace.

Discussion in Retrium
Discussion in Retrium

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