IQ Blog

What our very own IQers have to say…

Retrospective Gambling – Should we be picking retrospectives at random?

26 Apr 2017 |

Retrospective Gambling – Should we be picking retrospectives at random?

By Marc Diana – Agile Consultant, IQ Business

One of the central tenets of a Scrum team is that the team must be cross-functional and self-organising. Cross-functionality talks to the idea that the team must possess all the relevant skills to meet the “Definition of Done” and self-organisation implies that the team is mature and motivated enough to determine amongst themselves how they will complete all tasks in each sprint. In a perfect world, the team would be able to do this straight away and the Scrum Master would just need to facilitate and coach. However, in the imperfect world that I and the majority of others live in, this is not always the case. Much like velocities which need time to determine and accurately predict, so too does a team need time to build up relevant skills and self-organisation. The Scrum Master often needs to facilitate the building of a team whose members may or may not have the skills and / or the motivation to achieve the product’s outcomes. One way to continually improve on these aspects is by holding Sprint Retrospectives.

Sprint Retrospectives (more affectionately known in the Scrum community as retro’s) are one of the most enjoyable meetings for almost all of the Scrum Masters I have had the pleasure of working with as a coach. They are always on the lookout for new ideas, and often turn to the internet for inspiration through websites such as the Retrospective Wiki and the RetroMat. These websites are great to see what tools are available for retrospectives and how to use them, but they tend to stop just at that point. Some of the websites attempt to outline when and why to use a certain type of retro, but these “Why” statements are shallow at best. When choosing a retrospective tool, a great Scrum Master should not only choose it based on whether it is “fun” or whether it will solve a particular effectiveness problem, but should also take into account the team’s ability and motivation to ensure that any actions coming out of the retro are indeed actionable.

Aspects of the Situational Leadership theory, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, can assist Scrum Masters in determining the type of retro to hold with the team, based on their level of motivation and skill. The theory suggests that, depending on where along the axes of motivation and skill / ability one’s team members are will determine the type of leadership style that should be applied. The type of leadership style that should be applied will in turn, assist in determining the type or retrospective to hold. A simple version of the skills motivation matrix is below:

Retrospective Gambling

Although this is a fairly simplistic model, it provides great insight into the most effective style of approach based on where the team is currently at. For example, if the team is highly skilled but has low motivation, the model suggest that leaders should try to excite the team in order to bring their motivation levels up. The retrospective technique chosen should then focus more on exciting the team, rather than using a retrospective technique that would focus more on skills.  Now that we have an indication of the team’s skill and motivation levels, the Scrum Master can more effectively select the retrospective technique to use.

Teams will often move around this continuum based on factors affecting both their skill (e.g. a change in the technology used to produce the product) and motivation (e.g. an environmental factor in the business such as a restructure / retrenchments), so there is no one leadership style that can be applied at all times, and thus no one retrospective should be used every sprint.


Here are some examples of retrospectives for each of the four quadrants are outlined below. These are not the only ones that are available, however, I have used these and found them to be effective.

  1. Low Motivation and Low-Skill:

Futurespective: This type of retrospective starts off with placing the team at a point in the future, rather than focusing on what has happened in previous sprints. They then work backwards to understand how they can achieve this as the end state. A Scrum Master will be able to create some direction to assist the team in coming up with actionable tasks to reach that state, and looking at what the team could be like in the future can help motivate the team to reach that state and the actionable tasks can focus on the skills required.


  1. Low Motivation and High Skill

Appreciative enquiry: This type of retrospective builds on the Prime Directive that everyone on the team did the best job that they could, and focuses on the positives rather than talking about what went wrong. I find this works well when a team has high skill and knows they can get the tasks completed each sprint but something environmental or outside of their control prevents it from happening. This helps to excite the team about their own skillsets and what they can control in order to motivate them.


  1. High Motivation and Low Skill

7 Pillars of Agile Spiderweb Retrospective: The Agile Skills Matrix underpins the seven Pillars of Agile, which outline the “seven primary skill areas which contribute to effective Agile software development” ( Using this technique, the team rates their abilities against each of the seven categories and comes up with actions against the pillars that they feel actions are required against in order to increase their skills. The Scrum Master guides and supports the team in the journey towards enhancing their skills.



  1. High Motivation and High Skill

Tiny Retrospective: Often highly motivated and highly skilled teams are the teams that have been through many sprints together and have dealt with most of the major issues in order to get them to that point. A tiny retrospective helps the team determine some of the much smaller things that they can focus on that often make a big difference. These are the items that are often overlooked in lower skilled teams due to the existence of larger and / or more apparent issues. Owing to the high performing nature of this type of team, the Scrum Master will allow the team a lot more room to facilitate this retrospective themselves.


The above retrospectives are just a few examples of where a certain type of retrospective could assist a team depending on where they are on the Skills – Motivation matrix. There is nothing preventing a Scrum Master using any type of retrospective for their teams, provided they have put sufficient forethought into why they have chosen that type of retrospective. Situational Leadership theory provides one view for this to assist Scrum Masters in determining the type of retrospective to run as well as how to run it. So let’s stop choosing retrospectives just because they are “fun” or “different” – let’s try to really understand what type of retrospective should be run in order to ensure we get all our teams highly skilled as well as highly motivated.


Additional reading on retrospectives:



Illustrations by Talia Lancaster (