My toolbox for fun Sprint Retrospectives


I am a big believer in games, and any way to make an activity fun is always a winner for me.  If I can use a game to teach a concept, or to facilitate a discussion, I do so. My previous life as a Cub Scout leader taught me the power of a good game, and how to always be ready to do something unexpected and silly.   There was a period of over two years where I never repeated a Sprint Retrospective activity for a team, and my teams were always eager to see what new madness I had in store for them at the end of the Sprint.

Over time, I have built what I call my Retrospective Toolkit. My desk is never without these things, because I never know when I might need one or more of them.  Here’s what’s in my toolkit, and why they are there.

Dry-erase paper roll

Most of the rooms in my office have whiteboard paint, or have access to an actual whiteboard, but you never know when you might be stuck without one.  Having a roll of this ready to go should you be stuck lets you turn any wall into a whiteboard wall. I don’t need to use this often, but it’s saved me more than once when I would have been otherwise stuck.

Dry-erase markers

You will never have enough of these, and you will want both broad and fine point markers.  Get every color you can put your hands on and use them all. Don’t be content with the basic red, blue, green, and black, but load up your color palette to its fullest potential.  Adding color to your whiteboard helps make things stand out, and simply using the less standard colors will help make your Retrospectives stand apart from other meetings. Maximize your creativity!

Sticky notes

Every Scrum Master has piles of these.  As with markers, dont’ be afraid to seek out lots of different colors and use them.  Use colors to denote specific concepts; I always use green sticky notes for things that are positive, and red/pink sticky notes for things that require attention, for example.  Mix in colors to denote concepts you are trying to discuss, and allow like colors to be quickly grouped. I burn through sticky notes like crazy and consider them one of the most important tools I have.

Sticky note easel pad

Sometimes, you will want to take what you talk about in a Retrospective and bring it out of the room.  Having easel-sized sticky notes gives you the ability to write things down and bring it out of the room and stick those notes up anywhere in the team’s work area.

Pens

Because someone always forgets to bring one.

Permanent Markers

Less used than dry-erase markers by far, but I again have colors of these to match every dry-erase marker in my toolkit.  I will use these to write on sticky notes when I want to use a specific color to correspond to something I have written on the whiteboard.  Again, your use of color helps concepts and ideas stick and makes everything stand out. I keep both fine and broad point markers handy here too.

Blank printer paper

I often ask my teams to draw.  Sometimes I am drawing something and I need them to draw a basic shape with me to continue an activity, other times I have asked them to take 5 minutes and sketch something that describes the Sprint.  Having blank paper ready if I need it is always important.

Your phone’s camera

Take lots of pictures!  If the team is playing a game, take pictures while they are doing so!  Take one or more pictures of the whiteboard or wall as ideas take shape.  Take pictures of the team as they are brainstorming and putting things up on the wall.  Pretty much take pictures of everything, and then be sure to share them with the team! Sometimes those photos alone will help to reinforce what the team discussed and learned during the Sprint Retrospective.

Other, less-used items in my toolkit are:

  • 20 feet of light clothesline – because you never know when having everyone hold onto a piece of rope might turn into a good game
  • A deflated beach ball – Only blown up if I need it, but it’s too big to leave inflated at my desk!
  • Several soft bean-bag type balls – because sometimes you need things to toss around the room.
  • LEGO(r) or other building blocks – because building is fun.

After the Retrospective, be sure to take a few minutes and write up a summary of everything that emerged.  Transcribe the activity and all notes from the wall and send it to the team along with all of those photos you took!  Make your Retrospective transparent to the team, and ONLY to the team.

The most important thing in your toolbox, however, is YOU. Be creative. Practice the art of sketchnotes and use it on the whiteboard. Don’t be afraid to draw, even if you can’t draw a lick. Many times, the roughest of drawings is superior to a work of marker art.  Practice drawing stick figures, you will use them! Be enthusiastic, and your team will catch your enthusiasm, but be ready to put your coaching hat on and contain your enthusiasm if necessary. Be willing to always try something new, to experiment with new formats and techniques. Make your Sprint Retrospectives events that the team looks forward to attending, and not just another meeting where we don’t accomplish anything.

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About Heath

Scrum Master. Software Engineer. Writer. Musician. Craft Beer Aficionado. Jeopardy! contestant. Not necessarily in that order.