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Gamification of Retrospectives

7 August 2015

Madhavi Ledalla

High-performance Agile teams are always striving to achieve an effective retrospective that enables the team to discuss the success criteria and further define the areas for improvement. Retrospectives enable whole-team learning, act as catalysts for change, and generate action.

Achieving efficient and effective retrospectives involve the following best practices:

R: Realize where you are and where you want to be
E: Engage the teams in fruitful discussions
T: Teamwork to build "We" over "I" attitude
R: Relish the power of Inspect and Adapt cycles
O: Openness and transparency

My experience has been that retrospectives can get monotonous over time, thus becoming ineffective. Over time, we see these symptoms in a retrospective:

R: Repeated issues pop up
E: Engrossing and engaging discussions are missing
T: Team is present virtually; loses trust
R: Routine stuff; nothing interests the teams
O: Observably gets boring over time

The more I engaged with the retrospective process, the more I felt the need to revolutionize the process; to bring out something new, fun, and exciting to make the retrospectives vibrant. The other interesting aspect I discovered during my research was the theory of gamification and the universality of its application. Gamification gives a different perspective, while maintaining the element of fun, as we try to apply it to a few everyday situations.
Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders is an ancient Indian board game regarded as a classic worldwide. It usually involves two or more players who take turns rolling a die to move a token the number of squares indicated on the die. On the way to the final square, the players encounter hurdles in the form of snakes and opportunities in the form of ladders. Whenever a player encounters a snake, he or she is sent back to an earlier position, impeding success. Conversely, whenever a player encounters a ladder, that player gains an opportunity to skip squares and climb up the ladder to a higher position. The player who reaches the last square first wins the game.

Watching my two young girls play this game with their friends at home, I could correlate the experience to Agile teams, as they play a "game" much like Snakes and Ladders during the iterations to meet set goals. However, the game is successful only when all team members and functions climb up the ladders and reach the iteration goal. Quite unlike the game, it is not enough if one person wins. There will be unfortunate setbacks on our journey, just as in the game, and it is important that we face them together.

During one of our team retrospectives, I said, "Imagine we are all playing a game of Snakes and Ladders. How do we propose that each of us reach the top square at the same time?"

The teams were quick to respond, "We would win the game only if all team members and functions reach the top square together."

Imagine the snakes to be the impediments that teams face during their iterations. Think of the ladders as the best practices we should follow that will help us realize our iteration goal, in increments. The campfire represents the precautionary measures the team must apply to meet the iteration goal.

As simple as the approach might be, the clear message here is that applying the basic concepts of gamification in retrospectives accomplishes two things: It creates a lot of fun and excitement, and it brings out ideas that would not have come out through conventional approaches.
The remote controls
One thing becomes clear when you become a parent: You are going to have many kids visiting. The other day I was watching my nephew play with a remote-control car. I watched him focus on the controls so that he wouldn't lose control of it. There was perfect coordination of command and execution in his play. It then occurred to me: Why not gamify the retrospective by using a remote-control car? Think about it: The car works properly only if all of its parts -- the body, the tires, the batteries, and the remote sensors -- work together. As we can clearly observe, the idea is extremely relevant to our case in point, where all the functions in an Agile team need to really collaborate and work in synchronization if the system is to be successful. Only when all the functions of the team work in collaboration can a team perform optimally.

During another of our team retrospectives, I drew the picture above on the board and said to the team, "Brainstorm and write down the goal of the iteration, the big picture, so that everyone on the team is aware of it. Identify the impediments or blockers that are preventing us from working as a whole. Identify some practices that are working well for us that the team would like to continue and, finally, nail down the few action items that would enable us to reach the goal."

Agile teams can benefit greatly from effective retrospectives. These games are online at Those who are interested can leverage this platform for conducting their retrospectives.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.3 (4 ratings)


Rohit Ratan Mani, CSP,CSM, 8/10/2015 5:19:16 AM
Interesting article.
In my retrospectives, I ask everyboy to say one word that best describes the experience in the sprint. We then further disucss and get into the root cause. Needs lot of facilitation so that the iscussion dosen't go haywire.

Thanks for putting up this article.

Madhavi Ledalla, CSP,CSM,CSPO,REP, 8/12/2015 8:49:11 AM
Rohit, I have seen the “describe Sprint in one word” method, and this works out well. The techniques mentioned above can also be used for doing in-person retrospectives for a team by using flip board and markers. Innovation games can be used if you have a distributed team or if you want to do a large team retrospective say for about 50 teams at an enterprise level.
Thanks, Madhavi

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