The Mutant Star Fish

by Stefano Porro

The mutant Star Fish is my personal customization of the famous retrospective exercise called Star Fish. It adds to the typical three questions of the original exercise: What Went Well? What did not go so well? What should be improved? Another question focused on the team: “Why is important to me work in this team?”

What you can expect to get out of this exercise?

This exercise helps, like the original one, to identify problems and opportunities for the team using a simple visualization method. And moreover it permits you to identify the individual needs of the team members. While the original exercise focusses (correctly) on the team, this customization helps the team to also understand the individual needs.

Typically, we have five sections

1. Stop: In this section, team will bring the activities that don’t bring any value – waste

2. Less: Here team will bring the activities needed to be reduced because they require a high effort but don’t bring as much value as they expect

3. Keep: Activities that the team wants to keep and already performed. These are activities where effort and value produced are balanced

4. More: Activities not so often performed but very valuable. The team could decide to adopt these activities more often to boost their performance

5. Start: new activities decided by the team to bring more value. We can say these activities are experiments.

Now we add another section and we can call it as we want: WII-FM (What Is In For Me), Coolness, Amazing. Name this section with a word (or a little sentence) that can help the team members to understand that this section is made to gather their individual sentiments and needs. Because we are working as a team, and a team is made by individuals!

When you would use this exercise?

I suggest to use this exercise with teams that are new to Scrum (or Agile, generally). When people are new to Scrum, they are looking for their motivation. Focusing the exercise to both team performance and individual needs can help them to create a climate of “self-motivation”. They will understand that we are working as a team but we will never forget the single persons in the team. When a team starts with Scrum, team members are looking for a motivation to start this journey. In this way we ask them for it explicitly.

How to do it?

First of all draw a picture like this:



I’m sure you all know how to use this schema (except the new section).

Anyway, let’s see quickly how to use this retrospective exercise.
Ask the team to use about three minutes to gather, individually, ideas for the STOP section (they will use post-its to dump on the flip-chart). After that, use 10 minutes to make the members read loudly from their post-its and to align all team members, discussing about those ideas.

Repeat the same for the LESS, KEEP and MORE sections.

For the START section ask your team to vote for a single subject. In this way you can make them focused on a single topic, probably the most important to them. So study a strategy with the team so this idea will be well implemented. The strategy is helpful because to know if an implementation is successful, you need success criteria.

Luis Gonçalves says that the order in which you put the sections in the flip-chart is important (as important as the order in which you ask for them) and I totally agree. In addition, I put START and WII-FM in the two bigger sections (at least for an optical illusion) and I underline the words. In this way the team will concentrate more on the positive things. A little bit of psychology.

So, we have gone trough the START and we proceed almost to the closure of the retrospective.

At this point the team would have talked about the team process: now it’s the moment to talk about the individual needs and performance. Ask the team members to write something on post-its in five minutes (give them a little bit more time) and after that ask who will be the first to present his/her post-its.

Team members have to read loudly from their post-its and then explain their meaning briefly. After everyone reads his or her ideas, the Scrum Master will re-analyze all the post-its to understand if all things are clear. The action from these post-its its won’t be implemented for the next sprints, but they’ll give the team the possibility to explain what they are looking for to know about Scrum and the possibility of the Scrum Master to adapt his work in a twofold manner: team performance and individual performance. For example the Scrum Master could identify people who are having problems in the company so he or she can act quickly to avoid transitions.

This exercise, moreover, helps not to lose the focus on WHY we are using Scrum, and this is a very important thing to remember. Developers wouldn´t be so impressed by numerical motivations (ROI, etc.) but you, as a Scrum Master, must find the right key to motivate them. And in this way they’ll help you to discover the key to their success.

About Stefano 

Stefano is from Turin, Italy. He has worked in IT projects since 2001 and he feels lucky because he does what he loves. He learned about Scrum in 2007 when the company where he worked decided to adopt Scrum. For the first two years he was part of a Scrum team. And he was fascinated about the role of the Scrum Master because he always loved to help team members. For him, becoming a Scrum Master, was a natural evolution.

You can find Stefano Porro on Twitter @StefanoBowen and connect with him on Linkedin.If you prefer email, feel free to contact Stefano at

You can follow Stefano’s blog to know more about his work and his ideas.

Picture credits to: Stefano Porro and Bill Sutton

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