Retrospective: Starfish

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Format: The Starfish

The starfish is a good way to switch up the basic “what went good, and what can we improve” format while still sticking to the basics. It consists of a bit more stages, which enables to team to think a bit more outside the box. The starfish is a simple but very effective format to use.

The Icebreaker

To get everybody in the mood for this retrospective, the icebreaker is a fun (and silly) exercice that sets the stage for the retrospective. For this one, we asked each team member to summarize how they experienced the last sprint using only one word. You might be surprised which words are used! Usually I quickly read through them and ask a bit more context if a word is not self explanatory. Otherwise, we move on rather quickly.

The goal of this icebreaker is to get everybody engaged and present in the retrospective, making sure they are no longer distracted by other work that is going on.

The retrospective format

After the icebreaker, we can go into the actual exercise. This format contains 5 stages:

  • “More off”: what are we doing today, that is really helping us, but we would benefit from doing it more (often)? 
  • “Less of”: what are we doing today, that brings value, but we spend too much time on? It would be benefitial if we keep doing it, but perhaps a bit less (frequently).
  • “Stop”: what is slowing us down, not adding any value, or too time consuming? 
  • “Keep doing”: what are we doing today that is helping us, and we should focus on keep doing this in the next sprints? This is usually something very positive that might be forgotten if we don’t bring it to our attention.
  • “Start”: what should we start doing or incorporate into our way of working to improve as a team? This can be an experiment, something that a colleague did on another project, something we read about … 

As always, ask your team members to write down the topics that they want to discuss in this retrospective. It’s good if everybody can at least write down one topic per stage, but this will not always be possible for  everybody. You can ask for it, and see if this is possible. I usually put on a timebox of a few minutes and continu when everybody is ready. If your team members tend to write down a lot of topics, you might want to limit the amount to 3-4 per person. 

After the timebox, quickly read through the post-its to make sure the content is clear for everybody. If you have a lot of topics (too much to discuss in this session), do a quick dot voting session and start with the topics that has the most vots. If you are using Miro, you can use the built in Timer and Dot Voting tools.

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?

To continu in the one word style, I asked everybody to summarize this retrospective using only one word.

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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