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Format: The 5 WHYs

The Icebreaker

The retrospective format

After the icebreaker, we can go to the “5 WHYs” exercise. The exercises goes as following:

Ask every team member to write down 1 item that is not going so well, or can be improved. Often when you are using the “5WHYs” format, you already have a known topic that you want to investige, e.g. “we are spending too much time on DevOps work in our sprints.” If you have one topic, this is your starting point. If you have multiple topics, first let the team do a quick dot voting to determine the most urgent topic. 

When the topic is determined, ask “why” this is happening? How comes that we are e.g. spending too much time on DevOps work within our sprints? After a short discussion, try to come to a conclusion as the result of the first “WHY”. If there are multiple aspects, you might want to write down more than one. After this, ask the same question again: “why is this happening”? Repeat this 5x to come to the real root cause of the underlying issue. You will often see that when you are going through the chain of root causes, the underlying root cause can be solved within your team. This also helps to make the problem smaller and more tangible, and therefore easier to identify a first actionable way to start solving it.

If you are doing this exercise in a bigger group, you may want to split up during the exercise and report your findings to eachother after every “why”. You can split up in e.g. groups of 3 – 4 people and regroup when a “why” has been identified. 

While having the discussion on a topic, always focus on what’s within the control of the team. Don’t focus too much on external people or factors, but mainly on the things that are within the control of the team to identify improvement actions that the team is able to take. You want to have 1 – 2 action items at the end of the retrospective that you can implement in the next iteration(s). Remember: you will not always have big live changing action items in each retrospective. That’s also not the intention. A small action that brings a small improvements is already very good. Try to improve a little each sprint instead of trying to bring big changes at once.

About last retrospective...

A crucial part of the retrospective is to reflect on the outcome of the previous one! Teams often forget to do this, but it very important as it gives the team the confirmation that the action items are actually important… And that we want to make sure we improve! There is a section on the top of the template where you can refer to the action items of the last retrospective. Go over them, see how you are doing in regards to them, and decide what to do next.

Rate your retro!

At the very end of the retrospective, I ask the team to quickly rate their retrospective with focus on: 

  1. Did we have a good discussion? Did we speak openly, and respect each others opinion?
  2. Do we have valuable action items? And, are we confident that we will do them in the next sprint?


Other things about the format

On the very top of the format, you can see 2 elements:

  • Action items / experiments: this is the place where you would write down the action items during the retrospective. This makes it easy to summarize them at the end of the session.
  • Idea for the next retrospective: I always like to foresee an area where people can give feedback or give input for the next retrospective. This can be feedback on the current format, ideas for a new format, tips, general feedback… Anything that can help us make the next retrospective even better! I would not make it required for people to give input in this, make them feel free to give input when they come up with something.

Download the template (for free)

You can download the Miro template for free below:

If you don’t have a premium version of Miro, you can also download the picture at the top of the screen and create the board in Google Drawings.


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