I like to start a retrospective with a warm-up exercise. Something light and even funny but at the same time aimed at helping participants to start thinking about the last sprint.
There are many exercises like this (visit the fun retrospectives or Agile retrospectives resource wiki to find some). Recently I have used the Improv Cards from Management 3.0 and I am very pleased with the result.
The idea is very simple. The people should describe the last sprint using pictures on the cards. Ideally, it should be a story, but sometimes the result will be rather a set of not really connected statements – but this is also OK.
Now the technical details.
Sit the people around a small table. Shuffle the cards and give each participant a few cards from the deck. Ask someone to start by putting down the first card on the table and telling his description. Then go around the table – each team member will add one of his cards and tell his part of the story. Each consecutive piece of the story should be related to the picture on the card but also somehow connected with what the predecessor said. The difficulty level gets higher with each round because some cards are definitely harder to use. People tend to keep them, and during the last round, you can expect some weird stories to emerge.
This exercise should result in a long line of cards, some interesting remarks and a lot of laughter – the associations some people makeare really surprising & funny!
- Make it short – give ~20 cards in total. This means 5 cards for each of 4 participants, or 3 in case of 7 people attending, etc.
- Make it short – one or two sentences per person is enough.
- Make it short – keep the ball rolling. Ask the participants to answer quickly.
- Use a small table (smaller than the one on the picture above).
The time required for the exercise: 5 minutes.
I have run it 3 times so far, and it always worked well.
If you run this exercise (or some variant of this) I will be happy to hear about your experiences!