Reminiscing with people you know about things you’ve done together should be a rewarding process. You’re learning each other’s perspectives, finding connection in shared realizations, venting about things that cannot change. And in the retro format talking about making some adjustments to keep things fresh.

If your retro process feels unrewarding, it’s an indication that your team might need some attention:

If retro’s are a meeting the team looks forward too, you’ve got a healthy team and roadmap. The value of that temperature check can’t be overstated, and isn’t worth losing to a tool that might make them more measureably productive.

If I oversee a retro that feels flat without a good reason, figuring out why becomes my number one priority.

I am really not a fan of retro tools for long lived teams. They take what should be a great opportunity for a temperature check of your team and often turn it into rote UI wrangling. They do raise the floor (which can be important sometimes) but generally they lower the ceiling and don’t let you flexibly manage the retro based on what’s happening.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate a google spreadsheet for retros. It allows collaboration and communication as well as providing good history to review. There’s a standard template I use with a pretty standard set of questions:

Screenshot of retro spreadsheet
  1. What went well? - events, work, people to celebrate
  2. What went poorly? - things to talk through and diagnose
  3. What could be improved? - things that frustrate us
  4. What are we not talking about? - things we’re forgetting or ignoring

with a section for any action items and their owners. But if a week needs a diferent question, even halfway through, you can add a question or change a section entirely.

There’s a template, but also make it yours.

As a point of data, here’s how I run mine (very standard) with a bit more of the why behind it.

Phase 1: Everyone types into the spreadsheet. I go with all columns at once rather than timeboxing each question. Generally feels more natural in how people look back and remember different things. +1 other people’s entries as you go or feel free to be repetitive with nuance. The main goal is capturing ideas and memories, the less friction the better.

Phase 2: Once the typing is done, for each column

  1. Choose someone to read the entries. this gives the team time to focus and think about items for themselves while the reader is reading. Side note - if you’ve got someone who’s feeling low, have them read the positive things.
  2. Ask if there are items people want to talk about. If there’s something spicy, probably address that as a group first
  3. As people talk if there are any action items, however vague they might be, note them down
  4. Repeat for each column. The time taken for each column generally increases as you move left to right so facitilate accordingly.

Phase 3: Summarize the Retro Given the retro, how are things? Be honest, talk about challenges that