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What Went Well Retrospective

The retrospective plays a vital role in agile methodology as it is the opportunity for teams to examine ways to improve. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this goal is to ask product and software development teams two questions - what went well and what didn’t go well?

The what went well, what didn't go well retrospective technique keeps teams focused on their activities over the prior iteration and how they can boost their efficiency and productivity to drive continuous improvement. The exercise helps focus the discussion and is a great tool for new and developing teams to improve performance and quality the next iteration of a project.

Use the What Went Well retrospective when you want to...

Focus the team on creating a list of concrete actions it can take to improve.

Take a logical view of what's working and what's not.

Preparing for the exercise

Again, this retrospective technique is based around the team's responses to two primary questions - What went well and what didn't go well - in product development. Before the retrospective begins, the facilitator selects the template from the options in Retrium's retrospective exercise toolbox. Retrium's online retrospective templates are easy to use and replace the need for physical flip charts and sticky notes.

Setting the Stage

To start the retrospective the facilitator should explain how the technique works. They should then tell the project team the timebox for the retrospective (30-60 minutes, depending on the size of the team). Make sure the entire team is aware of the procedures and everyone feels comfortable moving forward. Many coaches also find that reading the Prime Directive of Retrospectives at the beginning of the retrospective meeting helps align agile and scrum teams before moving into the next stage of the retrospective.

Leading the ideation phase

The next step should take between 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your team. In this step, participants write down their own thoughts and answers to the two questions and record them on sticky notes or cards in the team room. During this step, team members should keep their notes private so that others aren't biased by other's ideas. After the timebox ends, the participants' sticky notes are displayed in the appropriate column as part of the next phase of the retrospective.

Grouping Topics

This next step helps the team narrow down topics to focus on and narrows the discussion to the big ideas on everyone’s mind with the objective of creating an action plan for continuous improvement. It's common for team members to create notes that are similar in theme or topic. So, to save time and make sure major topic themes are discussed, participants use the time during this phase of the retrospective to group notes into logical themes. Announce the timebox (5-10 minutes) and allow participants to collaboratively group the notes on the board.

Using Dot Voting

Sometimes discussion topics are obvious. Sometimes they aren't. If there are several similar notes on a lack of adequate user story documentation, for example, your team has an obvious pain point to discuss. However, sometimes it can be challenging to organize the discussion around one specific theme or topic. If this is the case, the facilitator can opt to use dot voting to facilitate the discussion based on the collective input of the group. Each member of the team is given a certain number of votes and is able to allocate the votes to reflect their individual prioritization of topics to discuss.

Facilitating the discussion

Announce the timebox for this phase (20-40 minutes should be enough). If dot voting was used, then the team should discuss the 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 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.


As each topic is discussed, it's important for the team to offer kudos to what went well and focus on the steps each team member can take and openly make suggestions for improvement moving forward. These suggestions should be action-oriented, avoid placing blame on teammates and will be documented by the facilitator as action items for the team's action plan. Whether you are a retrospective pro or a newcomer to the retrospective world, this technique helps your team get to the heart of the processes that your team uses and allow them to efficiently analyze ways to continuously improve. The discussion helps your team identify and create meaningful action items and an action plan the team can work toward over the next sprint and reflect on progress when you are ready for your next retrospective.

Once you complete the retrospective exercise, it should be clear to the team what they plan to focus on for improved performance. In true agile nature, have the team regroup in a week or two to check-in, see how the new processes are going, and run another retrospective.

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