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1.4 Finding Activities for Each of the Phases

The six phases are just a framework which helps you to structure retrospectives. Like many frameworks, it tells you what to do, but does not specify how. Your task then, is to bring these phases to life and you do that by finding a range of activities to carry out in each of the phases. The activities you choose should be appropriate to the goal of each phase and, when you’re still new to retrospectives, it to finding something suitable can be difficult.

Many experienced retrospective facilitators have written about their ideas and made them available in books and on the Internet. In the following sections, I present some of the sources I have used. Later in the book, you will also learn a few techniques for generating your own activities, but the following sources are an excellent place to start.

1.4.1 Agile Retrospectives Book

“Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great” by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen [5] was the first book to discuss retrospectives in the context of agile software development and is one of the key texts on retrospectives in general. After a brief introduction to the topic and the description of the phase model, the writers swiftly move on to the practical component. Eighty percent of the book consists of descriptions of activities that can be carried out in the different phases. The description of each activity includes the goal, the time required, the individual steps, the materials required, and possible variations.

Derby and Larsen describe a total of 38 activities, which provides enough material for quite a few retrospectives. Combining these activities in different ways means you can keep a sense of variety and novelty in your retrospectives over a long period.

1.4.2 Retromat

I came across the Retromat [6] website by chance and have recommended it as often as possible ever since. No other source enables you to find activities for your retrospectives as easily as it does. It was created by Corinna Baldauf [7].

The first time you visit the site, you immediately get a suggested retrospective plan with different activities proposed for each phase. If you don’t like those activities, you can either generate a completely new plan, or click through different activities per phase until you find what you want. The activities on the site come from various sources, including Derby and Larsen’s book. Each plan has a reference number that allows you to find it again or share it with other people. As of the writing of this book, Retromat offers 131 activities, and more are always being added. Retromat also allows you to enter your own activities.

1.4.3 Retrospective Wiki

Another great source for ideas on designing your retrospective is the Retrospective Wiki [8], which contains a list of possible activities and complete plans. This wiki also features some tips and tricks, descriptions of typical problems and potential solutions, and links to further sources. Many of the activities included will be familiar from the other sources I’ve described, but you will also find some new ideas. This wiki is constantly expanded and maintained.

1.4.4 Tasty Cupcakes

Tasty Cupcakes isn’t really dedicated to retrospectives but features a wide range of games and simulations that can be used in all areas of life. For example, you might find a workshop on product innovation or a simulation to make it easier to understand a particular topic. This website was created by Michael McCullough and Don McGreal after they presented a variety of games at the Agile2008 conference. They were assisted by Michael Sahota.

Several of the ideas on the site can be used in retrospectives. Just click on the words “retrospective” or “retrospectives” in the tag cloud’ to get a list of possible activities. This site is constantly being expanded and maintained, so ’having a look from time to time is worthwhile [9].

1.4.5 Gamestorming

Gamestorming [10] is a wonderful collection of creative games that support innovation and implementing change. Some people might be put off by the word ‘game,’ but the creative techniques presented in the book are more like playful approaches to work than games.

This book is a practical reference with a total of 88 different activities, most of which can be used very easily in retrospectives. After all, a retrospective is nothing if not a catalyst for change. The activities are divided into four categories:

  • Core Games

  • Games for Opening

  • Games for Exploring

  • Games for Closing

The names of these categories have some overlap with the six phases of a retrospective. “Games for Opening,” for example, are likely to work well in the “Set the Stage” phase. The activities listed under “Games for Exploring” are suited to both the “Gather Data” as well as “Generate Insights” phases. “Games for Closing” can be used in “Define Experiments” and to conclude the retrospective.

Here is a possible plan for a retrospective using activities from “Gamestorming”:

  • Set the Stage: Draw the Problem (p. 90)

  • Gather Data: Pain-Gain Map (p. 190)

  • Generate Insights: Understanding Chain (p. 218)

  • Define Experiments: Prune the Future (p. 247)

  • Closing: Plus/Delta (p. 246)

The book provides key information for each activity, including the goal, a detailed description of the process, and an approximate runtime, which helps with planning. Also included is a piece of information that is important if you want to carry out the activity effectively: the number of participants.

In addition to the activities, the book features a good introduction to the idea of game storming as well as provides you with the information you need to start creating your own activities. This book is a must for anyone serious about retrospectives and implementing change.

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