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Starfish Retrospective

Those that are looking for an easy way to focus on actions and behaviors in the sprint might look to our favorite underwater friend: the starfish. ⭐ 🐟 Similar to the points of a starfish, this sprint retrospective technique is named for its five points of discussion, where agile teams can articulate what to start doing, stop doing, keep doing, do more of, and do less of before the next sprint.

Use the starfish retrospective template when you want to…

Reveal both the successes and challenges experienced by a team.


Enable team members to look at the projects, activities, or actions of the business and evaluate what needs more energy and resources, versus what needs less, to drive continuous improvement.

How it works

Before the retrospective meeting starts, the facilitator should select the Starfish exercise from Retrium's retrospective exercise toolkit. ⭐🐟 Each column - or arm of the starfish diagram - represents a single topic of discussion:

  • Keep Doing
  • Team strengths that are helping the group.
  • Less Of
  • Actions that are beginning to hold less value and need to be done less frequently.
  • More Off
  • Current practices of value that need to be done more.
  • Stop Doing
  • Actions that no longer improve team productivity or the team dynamic, and should be stopped altogether.
  • Start Doing
  • Fresh ideas that could provide value to the team or project.

    Setting the Stage

    Like any other retrospective activity, take some time to ensure the entire team has a shared understanding of how the retrospective format works and what each of the five columns means. Explain how long the retrospective meeting will last by creating a timebox (30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the team). Once everyone understands the expectations, you're ready to retrospect!


    The timebox for the brainstorming session should last between 10-15 minutes. During this period of time, participants should consider the previous sprint and think about processes and ideas that they'd like to keep doing, start doing, stop doing, do more of, and do less of. Each question, comment, or idea should be written on its own note. 

    While brainstorming, participants should keep their ideas private by using a system that obscures the ideas during this phase.🤫 (Psst! We know a retrospective tool that does this really well.) Keeping ideas private during this stage helps prevent groupthink and ensures that team members aren't swayed by seeing the opinions of others. 


    Once everyone on the team has finished creating their notes and/or the timebox has ended, it's time for the big reveal. Depending on the circumstances of the previous sprint, you may have a lot of notes. 😨 If so, don't be overwhelmed – this is actually great news! It means that the team has a lot of honest feedback and ideas for improvement. And, odds are, a few of the notes will cover similar topics. So, as a starting point, you can look for trends, patterns, and popular opinions and then group notes that contain related (or even identical) ideas into logical themes. This way you can still cover everyone's topic and concerns without going over every individual note. 

    Dot Voting

    Discussions can be the cream filling to the retrospective pie 🥧 , but facilitating a productive discussion can be challenging! Sometimes discussion topics are obvious but, other times...not so much. If there are several similar notes on meeting schedules, for example, then your team has an obvious pain point to discuss. However, when there is a large variety of topics, it can be challenging to structure the conversation in an organized 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.


    We're down to the best part: discussion! The facilitator can set a timebox for the entire conversation (typically, 20-40 minutes). However, if there are a lot of ideas to get through, you might consider timeboxing each group to take full advantage of your time together. Timeboxing individual topics tends to keep the conversation on topic and moving at a faster pace.

    Hopefully, once your Starfish retro is complete, your team will have a clearer idea of what to do more or less of, as well as what they need to start, stop, and keep doing. Make sure to capture relevant action items that your team can act on in future sprints!

    If you feel like your agile team is struggling to focus its energy (or that there just isn't enough energy to go around!), Starfish can be a valuable tool to have on hand. Try out this effective retrospective technique in your next agile retrospective to ensure that the team is aligned on their goals and opportunities for improvement.

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