What is a Starfish in a retrospective

by Luis Goncalves

The Star Fish exercise is an evolution of the typical 3 questions that are used for retrospectives:

What went well?
What did not go so well?
What should be improved?

What you can expect to get out of this exercise

With this exercise, teams can get a good overall picture of what’s going on within a team, what is working and what is not working. They can get an overview what failed and what was successful in the past.

This exercise helps to identify problems and opportunities for a team. Instead of using 3 questions above, you can use 5 words instead:

1. Stop – Here you identify activities that do not bring value to a team or to a customer. These are activities that bring waste into the process.

2. Less – Here you describe activities, which require higher level of effort and bring little benefit. These activities might be the ones that were brought into the team in past, but did not demonstrate any improvements.

3. Keep – Usually these are good activities or practices that team members want to keep. These activities are already being applied.

4. More – Activities on which a team should focus more and/or perform more often.

5. Start – Activities or ideas that a team wants to bring into the game.

When you would use this exercise

The Starfish exercise is suitable for any team, it does not require any specific level of team maturity.

The exercise is simple and does not require any special occasion. The best situation to apply this exercise is using it at a moment when a team goes through several ups and downs during the iteration. It reveals both good and less positive things achieved by a team. In general, this can be a good tool for making a summary of the sprint.

How to do itstar-fish-retrospective

First, take a flip chart paper and draw the picture you see on the right. In case your team is distributed you can use tool Lino . It´s a tool that allows you to do everything you need to run this exercise.

After drawing this picture, do a brainstorming session with your team. Ask them to collect several ideas in a section “Stop”. Afterwards, give 2-3 minutes to each person to read out loud his ideas. After, take 10 minutes to discuss if everyone is aligned.

Repeat the exercise for each of the different sections: “Less”, “Keep” and “More”.

For the “Start” part, add one extra step. Use the Toyota approach, choose one single topic to discuss. You can do voting to see what the team considers the most important topic to start with. After the topic is selected, design a small strategy to make sure this topic is well implemented. This strategy might include responsible persons, the deadline, and most importantly, success criteria. In order to know if the implementation was successful, we must have success criteria outlined.

The topic, which the team chooses in the “Start” part, does not need to be a new topic for a team, it can be an improvement on something that is not working well.

Worth to mention is the order you should follow when going through the different sections. Start with “Stop” and continue with “Less, “Keep”, “More” and finish with “Start”. Starting with negative topics and moving towards the positive ones will help the team to end a retrospective with a positive feeling!

Picture credits go to: Luis Goncalves & Jennifer Whiting

In case you are interested in Agile Retrospectives I am at the moment preparing a 10 DAYS FREE AGILE RETROSPECTIVES PROGRAM. This is a complete self-study program where you will learn anything that you need to become a great Agile Retrospectives facilitator.

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