Asking and answering go around the team circle - an excellent way to reach consensus Source: Agile Retrospectives
Everyone sits in a circle. Begin by stating that you'll go round asking questions to find out what you want to do as a group. You start by asking your neighbor the first question, e.g. 'What is the most important thing we should start in the next iteration?' Your neighbor answers and asks her neighbor a related question. Stop when consensus emerges or the time is up. Go around at least once, so that everybody is heard!
Divide a flip chart into boxes headed with 'Start', 'Continue' and 'Stop'. Ask your participants to write concrete proposals for each category - 1 idea per index card. Let them write in silence for a few minutes. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on it by distributing dotsor X's with a marker, e.g. 1, 2, and 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.
Introduce SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) and examples for SMART vs not so smart goals, e.g.'We'll study stories before pulling them by talking about them with the product owner each Wednesday at 9am' vs. 'We'll get to know the stories before they are in our sprint backlog'. Form groups around the issues the team wants to work on. Each group identifies 1-5 concrete steps to reach the goal. Let each group present their results. All participants should agree on the 'SMART-ness' of the goals. Refine and confirm.
Condense many possible actions down to just two the team will try Source: Lydia Grawunder & Sebastian Nachtigall
Hand out index cards and markers. Tell everyone to write down the two actions they want to try next iteration - as concretely as possible (SMART). Then everyone pairs up with their neighbor and both together must merge their actions into a single list with two actions. The pairs form groups of 4. Then 8. Now collect every group's two action items and have a vote on the final two.
Prepare a flip chart with 3 columns titled 'What', 'Who', and 'Due'. Ask one participant after the other, what they want to do to advance the team. Write down the task, agree on a 'done by'-date and let them sign their name. If someone suggests an action for the whole team, the proposer needs to get buy-in (and signatures) from the others.
Create actions based on how much control the team has to carry them out Source: Diana Larsen who adapted it from 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' by Stephen Covey and Circle of Influence and Concern' by Jim Bullock
Prepare a flip chart with 3 concentric circles, each big enough to put stickies in. Label them 'Team controls - Direct action', 'Team influences - Persuasive/recommending action' and 'The soup - Response action', from innermost to outermost circle respectively. ('The soup' denotes the wider system the team is embedded into.) Take your insights from the last phase and put them in the appropriate circle. The participants write down possible actions in pairs of two. Encourage them to concentrate on issues in their circle of influence. The pairs post their action plans next to the respective issue and read it out loud. Agree on which plans to try (via discussion, majority vote, dot voting, ...)
Brainstorm what behaviors to keep, drop & add and pick the top initiatives Source: Agile Retrospectives
Divide a flip chart into boxes headed with 'Keep', 'Drop' and 'Add'. Ask your participants to write concrete proposals for each category - 1 idea per index card. Let them write in silence for a few minutes. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on it by distributing dots or X's with a marker, e.g. 1, 2, and 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.
Brainstorm what worked well & what to do differently and pick the top initiatives Source: Agile Retrospectives
Head 2 flip charts with 'Worked well' and 'Do differently next time' respectively. Ask your participants to write concrete proposals for each category - 1 idea per index card. Let them write in silence for a few minutes. Let everyone read out their notes and post them to the appropriate category. Lead a short discussion on what the top 20% beneficial ideas are. Vote on it by distributing dots or X's with a marker, e.g. 1, 2, and 3 dots for each person to distribute. The top 2 or 3 become your action items.
Get a sense of everyone's position and reach consensus Source: Nick Oostvogels
When the team can't decide between two options, create a big scale (i.e. a long line) on the floor with masking tape. Mark one end as option A) and the other as option B). Team members position themselves on the scale according to their preference for either option. Now tweak the options until one option has a clear majority.
Collect what to start, stop, continue, do more and less of Source: Pat Kua
Draw 5 spokes on a flip chart paper, dividing it into 5 segments. Label them 'Start', 'Stop', 'Continue', 'Do More' and 'Do less'. Participants write their proposals on sticky notes and put them in the appropriate segment. After clustering stickies that capture the same idea, dot vote on which suggestions to try.
Actively identify, discuss, clarify and prioritize a number of actions Source: Suzanne Garcia via Malte Foegen
Everyone writes one card with an action that they think is important to do - the more specific (SMART), the better. Then team members go around and chat about the cards like in a cocktail party. Every chat pair discusses the actions on their two cards. Stop the chatting after 1 minute. Each chat pair splits 5 points between the two cards. More points go to the more important action. Organize 3 to 5 rounds of chats (depending on group size). At the end everyone adds up the points on their card. In the end the cards are ranked by points and the team decides how much can be done in the next iteration, pulling from the top.
Addendum: In many settings you might want to randomly switch the cards in the beginning and between discussions. In this way, neither of the point splitting parties has a stake in which of the cards gets more points. This is an idea by Dr. Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan via Paul Tevis
Visualize promise and ease of possible courses of actions to help pick Source: Tobias Baldauf
Reveal a previously drawn tree. Hand out round index cards and instruct participants to write down the actions they would like to take - one per card. When everyone's finished, collect the cards, shuffle and read them out one by one. Place each 'fruit' according to the participants' assessment:
Is it easy to do? Place it lower. Hard? More to the top.
Does it seem very beneficial? Place it more to the left. Value is dubious at best? To the right.
The straightforward choice is to pick the bottom left fruit as action items. If this is not consensus, you can either have a short discussion to agree on some actions or dot vote.
How much is an action item worth to the team? Source: Gamestorming
Hang up the list of possible actions. Draw a column next to it, titled 'Importance (in $)'. The team gets to spend 100 (virtual) dollars on the action items. The more important it is to them, the more they should spend. Make it more fun by bringing paper money from a board game such as Monopoly.
Let them agree on prices. Consider the 2 or 3 highest amount action items as chosen.
Ideas for actions compete for 2 available 'Will do'-slots Source: Judith Andresen
[Caution: This game creates 'winners' and 'losers'. Don't use it if the team has power imbalances.]
Ask everyone to think of 2 changes they'd like to implement and write them down on separate index cards. Draw 2 slots on the board. The first team member puts their favorite change idea into the first slot. His neighbor puts their favorite into the second slot. The third member has to pitch her favorite idea against the one already hanging that she favors less. If the team prefers her idea, it's swapped against the hanging one. This continues until everyone has presented both their cards.
Try not to start the circle with dominant team members.
Prepare a flip chart with a playing schedule for quarter-final, semi-final and final. All participants write down actions on a post-it until you have eight actions. Shuffle them and randomly place them on the playing schedule. The team now has to vote for one of the two actions in each pair. Move the winning action to the next round until you have a winner of the impediments cup.
If you want to take on more than one or two actions you can play the match for third place.
Hand out sticky notes and markers. Write the big problem you want to solve onto a note and stick it to the top of a wall or big board. Ask the participants to write down ideas of what they can do to solve the problem. Post them one level below the original problem. Repeat this for each note on the new level. For every idea ask whether it can be done in a single iteration and if everyone understands what they need to do. If the answer is no, break it down and create another level in the problem solving tree.
Once you have lower levels that are well understood and easy to implement in a single iteration, dot vote to decide which to tackle in the next iteration.
Use your Planning Poker cards for un-influenced voting Source: Andreas Ratsch
If you've got very influential and / or shy team members you can re-use Planning Poker cards to vote simultaneously:
Write all suggested actions on sticky notes and put them onto a wall. Hand out an ordered deck of Planning Poker cards to each participant. Count the proposals and remove that many cards from the back of the card decks. If you've got 5 suggestions you might have cards '1', '2', '3', '5', and '8'. This depends on your deck (some have a '1/2' card). It doesn't matter, as long as all participants have the same set of values.
Explain the rules: Choose a card for each suggestion. Choose a low value if the action is not worth doing in your opinion. Choose a high value if the action is worth starting next iteration.
Give them a minute to sort out their internal ranking and then present the first suggested action. Everybody chooses a card and they reveal them at the same time. Add the numbers from all cards and write the sum onto the action. Remove the used poker cards. Repeat this for all actions. If you have more actions than poker values the players can show 'no card' (counting 0) for the appropriate number of times.
Implement the action with the highest sum in the next iteration. Add more actions only if there's team consensus to do so.
This activity is helpful when a team is facing an ambiguous, volatile, uncertain or complex set of problems and has many suggested action items to choose from.
Draw a Landscape Diagram, i.e. an x-axis labeled 'Certainty about approach' and a y-axis labeled 'Agreement on issue'. Both go from low certainty / agreement in their mutual origin to high towards the top / right. For each action item ask 'How much agreement do we have that solving this problem would have a great beneficial impact? How certain are we about the first steps toward a solution?' Place the note on the diagram accordingly. When all actions are placed, shortly discuss the 'map' you created. Which actions will give the greatest benefit in the next iteration? Which are more long term?
Choose 2 actions from the simple / ordered area of the map or 1 action from the complex area.
Check for resistance instead of approval Source: Georg Paulus, Siegfried Schrotta \& Erich Visotschnig via Corinna Baldauf
Do you have a hotly debated matter with several possible ways to go and the team can't agree on any of them? Instead of trying to find a majority for a way that will create winners and losers, try what happens if you turn the decision inside out: Draw a table with the voters in the left-most column and proposals on top. Now everybody has to fill in their resistance towards each proposal. 0 means 'no resistance - this is what I want', up to 10, meaning 'shoot me now'. Give the least hated solution a try.
Think about how the team will follow up and set yourselves up for success Source: Chris Rimmer
Prepare a flip chart with 4 columns titled 'Action', 'Motivation', 'Ease' and 'Reminder'. Write down the list of actions the team wants to take in the first column. Read out each action and fill in the other columns by asking:
Motivation - How can we motivate ourselves to do this? Examples: \'Jane will own this and feedback at the next retrospective', or 'We'll reward ourselves with cake on Friday if we do this every day'
Ease - How can we make it easy to do? Example: For an action 'Start involving Simon in the stand up' a possibility could be 'Move the task board next to Simon's desk'
Reminder - How will we remember to do this? Examples: 'Richard will put a reminder in Google Calendar' or 'We'll do this after the stand up each day'
Actions do not require all of the above. But if there are no suggestions for any of the columns, ask the team if they really think they will do it.
If your team has a tendency to see obstacles outside of their team and influence and primarily wants others to change, you can try this activity:
Draw a big rectangle on the board and another rectangle inside of it, like a picture frame. Hang all complaints and grievances that surfaced in previous phases into the frame.
Now comes the interesting twist: Explain that if they want anything in the outside frame to change, they will have to do something themselves to affect that change. Ask the team to come up with actions they can do. Put these actions into the inner rectangle (near the outer sticky they are addressing).
As developer, product owner, scrum master and agile coach, Timon has been a Retromat user and fan for more than three years. He had quite a few feature ideas. In 2016 he started to build some of those features himself. You can email him or
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