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Retrospective on Holiday

An Agile team putting sticky notes on a whiteboard during a retrospective

Lets face it, Agile Retrospectives, like all things, can get a little stale when they become too habitual. Maybe you're finding yourself in a rut answering the same old questions with the same old sticky notes, or maybe you're just looking for a fun twist on an already effective routine. Just like how the holidays add some fun to an often cold and dreary time of year, mixing up retrospective formats helps bring out fresh ideas, surface new pain-points, and build relationships on your team. Retrospectives happen frequently enough that there's plenty of opportunity to try something new, take what you like, and make your normal routine better. As we head into the holiday season, we wanted to share some of our favorite holiday-themed retros.

Thanksgiving Feast

A selection of fine foods waiting to be devoured.

Thanksgiving to us is all about good food, and quality time with friends and family. As an organization, we like to reflect on what we are thankful for (we even have a slack channel for doing so!) and Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to do that on a larger scale.

We start with some questions for the group: What is your favorite food? What food do you hate? Are there any foods you were surprised to find out you actually liked? What about a food that you thought might be tasty, but turned out to be gross? We can write our answers to these questions on the four corners of a whiteboard.

Now we can talk about our sprint with the same types of questions. What did you enjoy? What did you dislike? Were there any pleasant surprises? What about things that turned out to be worse than we expected?

Finally, no true gathering is without the 'elephant in the room'. We strive to be open and honest with feedback, especially in a retrospective, so what's the big thing that nobody is talking about? Write that one smack in the center of the whiteboard.

Pass the Parcel

A group of individuals playing a game of pass the parcel

This idea originally came from Ruth Ryan’s Christmas Themed Retrospective, but it is generic enough that it could work for any fun gift-giving event. It follows the British party game, Pass the Parcel, and is a great combination of hot potato, musical chairs, and that fun saran wrap ball game that popped up a few years ago. I recommend downloading a musical chairs app like this one to help track timing.

In-between layers of wrapped sweets (or wrapped with the sweets) was a question. This could be as simple as ‘What is something you are looking forward to this weekend?’ or as complex as ‘Tell about a situation since our last retro where you wished this had gone differently’. The questions mostly follow the types of questions we commonly see during retros - those reflecting on what went well, areas we can improve, and a good mix of random get-to-know-you questions thrown in. Everyone walked away with some chocolate and ideas about how we could improve our team dynamics throughout the next month.

Image from Dan Metcalfe.

Sugar Plum Fairy

Fairy lights illuminating a work space with photographs and a camera lens.

This retro came from retromat, which has a large database of retro ideas if you’re looking to mix things up. The premise is that a fairy has granted you a wish. When you come into work the next day you notice your wish has been granted, but how? This one worked particularly well for our team as we geared up for a break going into the new year. It truly gave everyone an opportunity to find something they wish would be improved and create a utopia in their work environment.

After everyone shared their wish and how they knew it was granted, we then dug further and discussed baby steps we could take now to help make those wishes come true. This was a great activity for our team and it has come up several times this year. It seems the sugar plum fairy is timeless!

Sailboat Sleighride Retro

The Sailboat Retro is a popular format and one that lends itself to customization. Team Slippers likes to collaborate on a custom theme each sprint - recently having Mario, Dungeons & Dragons, and Mandalorian themed sailboat retros. For this holiday season, consider a "Sleighride Retro"!

Several themed retro boards created in Miro
Several themed retro boards created in Miro.

The typical Sailboat Retro structure is simple. First, draw a sailboat sleigh in the center of the board. This is the team. To capture what helped us we draw the wind in the sails the reindeer pulling the sleigh. For the things that held us back draw an anchor the blinding snow. Next, for potential risks draw a rocky reef a fallen tree in the path. Finally, for our vision and goals draw a tropical island a warm fire with hot fresh cocoa. As you can see, each of these quadrants is easily customized. Maybe your team prefers warm cider, frozen sidewalks and car doors, lumps of coal, and mountains of presents. Be creative, and don't rush this step because there's no better way to start a retro than with a fun collaborative exercise! Once you've got the layout built take some time to come up with your individual notes for each quadrant, and then share with the group. You can start wherever you'd like, but we like to start with vision and goals because it helps focus the conversations that follow.

These are just four ideas of ways to give your next retrospective a holiday twist. As you can see, there are infinite possibilities. We hope that the time off that often comes with the holiday season can be a time of relaxation and reflection for you and your team. If you have any favorite retrospective formats, join the conversation on Twitter or drop a comment on Facebook, we'd love to hear from you!

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