When you want to get down to the fundamentals, Start Stop Continue is a simple retrospective technique method for an action-oriented retrospective meeting that encourages participants to come up with practical ideas for team-based improvement.
Focus the team on creating a list of concrete actions it can take to improve
Look back at the last sprint (stop & continue) while also looking forward to the next sprint (start doing)
This retrospective format is centered around three primary questions - what should we start doing? what should we stop doing? and what should we continue doing? Before the retro begins, the facilitator should select the Start Stop Continue technique from Retrium's retrospective exercise toolkit.
Before you hit start on the retrospective, make sure that everyone understands what each column (Start, Stop, Continue) is asking participants to consider.
Start List: Things that the team thinks would have a positive impact on the team that aren't already implemented.
Stop List: Things within the team’s workflow or process that aren’t helping the team to achieve their goals and should be stopped
Continue List: Things that already worked well in the previous iteration and should stay in the workflow to ensure future success.
To make sure you end the retrospective on time, create a timebox for the entire meeting (30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the team) so the group has an idea of how much time each discussion should take. When everyone feels comfortable and settled in, it's time to continue!
Next comes brainstorming! Allow participants a few minutes to create important ideas that will be added to each column. While brainstorming, participants should keep their ideas private. 🤫 Keeping notes hidden during this stage helps prevent groupthink and ensures that team members aren't influenced by seeing the opinions of others. If possible, making space for private idea generation is the best way to collect honest feedback. (Psst...we know a digital tool that makes this step easy!)When the timebox ends, the participants should have added each of their ideas as individual sticky notes to the relevant column.
A few members of your agile team may be on the same page – or at least reading out of the same book – and create similar ideas in their notes. This alignment is a great sign, and highlighting these similar ideas can help strengthen the bond between team members. The facilitator should ask the team to group notes with a similar theme. Did four notes mention happy hours or team activities? Sounds like socialization should be a discussion topic. Did all the notes mention how fun this retrospective is? Then maybe implementing more retrospectives should be a topic. Regardless of the topics, the Grouping Phase helps identify themes for the upcoming team discussion.
If there are a lot of ideas 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 organize the retrospective based on the collective prioritization of the group.
If dot voting was used, then the team discusses the notes in prioritized order. If not, the facilitator can choose the order of discussion. When it comes to timeboxing the discussion, you have a few options. You can timebox the entire discussion (20-40 minutes), or you may also choose to timebox the conversation of each individual topic well (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.
Remember! As the conversation progresses, it's imperative that the facilitator also write down any action items that come out of the discussion in order to help the team create an action plan for future improvement.
By the end of the discussion, the team should have some clear goals on what they hope to start, stop, and continue doing into the next sprint. These action items can be captured in the team's action plan. It's important for these topics to be discussed and celebrated during the next iteration, at daily standups and other meetings to keep the team aligned on their commitment to continuous improvement.