Retrospectives | Positive-Delta format

Retrospectives are very important for every team. It brings every one in the team together into a room and make them think, discuss, reflect and take actions based on their reflections. The usual way of running retrospectives is to run at the same time every week, iteration or phase of work. This predictability also brings an element of boredom if the retrospective format is the same every time.

I observed that by changing the format of the retrospectives as per personalities and the need of the team helped a lot in running it effectively and people taking action on what they have discussed and reflected. I have used the simple Postive-Delta format many times and it has helped me get every one in the room involved for the duration of the retrospective. I have also added a pre activity and post activity to this format.

Team size: 12-16 people

Time required: 1 hour

How to do this?

  • Ice breaker or energizer – Any simple ice breaker to which can be completed within 5 minutes is a good start. It loosens up people and also makes them forget work if they were pre-occupied with some problem.
  • Reflection time – Give the team around 10 minutes of silent time to think about what went well and what needs to change. They can write it down if they think they will forget.
  • Writing space – Have two whiteboards or split the writing space into two. Mark one side as ‘+’ and the other side as ‘Δ’. Have white board markers in two different colours such that you can capture points in alternating colours. It is easy to read the board from every where in a hall.
  • Positive round – Pass a soft toy around and request the person holding the toy to give only one top positive about the retrospective period. If their top point has already been expressed by another member then add a ‘+1’ to that point ask them for their second top point and write it down. Give every one in the room a chance to give at least one point and also make sure the one with the soft toy alone speaks. At the end of the round if anyone still has a point to speak note down that as well. Do not gather any explanation for any point other than the something which can help capture the point on the board.
  • Delta round – Similar to ‘Positive round’ but ask for what has been nagging problem and they wish to change it. Go through the same process of capturing the points from the team as in positive round.
  • Analysis time – This phase can get longer if not facilitated properly. Read each point on both sides and capture ‘Action items’ and ‘Ideas’ from the team. If any point gets into a debate or a solution mode then quickly interrupt and capture the resolution of that problem to be an action item for a focussed group or the team itself based on how severe it looks.
  • Ownership for actions – Request for volunteers to implement the action items and try out new ideas. Capture their names against the line items on a poster to put it up in the team area later.
  • Recognition time – Though teams should not have heroes or heroines, it is natural for individuals to go through phases of ups and downs which makes some individuals contribute more than the others in a given span of time. Give the team the last five minutes to reach out to the individuals whom they think that life was made easy because of their help or contribution; and thank them mentioning what made their life easy. The last time I requested the team to do this I was surprised to see so much of hugging, huddling and laughter all over the room. Every one left the room on a high note.
This format of retrospective helped me to make everyone in the team talk about what matters to them and finish it off within an hour while capturing the action items and their owners. This format works well with a group size of 12-16 and only to retrospect an iteration or a phase of a project. The content in retrospectives website helps me to run effective retrospectives.

Image: winnond /

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