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What Went Well Retrospective

The What Went Well retrospective technique plays a vital role in the agile methodology and has been a standby for many in the agile community. After all, it's one of the primary opportunities for both in-office and remote teams to examine ways potential opportunities for improvement. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this goal is to ask your team two simple questions - what went well and what didn't go well?

This retrospective activity helps the team examine their process from the previous sprint, as well as brainstorm potential improvements to boost efficiency and productivity. This exercise helps focus the discussion and is a great tool for new and developing teams to create a list of action items that foster continuous improvement before 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

So as we mentioned, this retrospective template 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 What Went Well template from 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 (a 30-60 minute time period, 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 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 in the team room (one idea per note!). During this step, team members should keep their notes private; this prevents members of the team from being swayed by others' ideas. After the timebox ends, the participants' sticky notes are displayed in the appropriate column.

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. 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...and sometimes they aren't. If there are several similar notes on a lack of follow-through, 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 retrospective 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. 

Discussion

As each topic is discussed, it's important for the team to offer a positive note to what went well, while also focusing on the steps each team member can take to improve in future sprints. Remember, it is not just about learning how to do less negative, it is also how to increase the positive experiences to create a productive and happy team. Have the facilitator document each action item in the team's action plan. Whether you are an agile retrospective pro or a newcomer to the retro world, this template helps your team efficiently analyze ways to continuously improve. 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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