Back to the sources: Retrospective Basics Part Two – Variety

In Part One we looked at the my very basics for helpful, effective retrospectives. Today we put variety [0] in the spotlight.

Listening to Gitte on the TIRF podcast reminded me of things I struggled with in my earlier Scrum Master’s and Agile Coach’s days. Things that I wish I would’ve known way earlier in my career – or even better: I would have already been comfortable with back then.

After listening to aforesaid episode I finally had words to summarize what was missing back then: it is a gut feeling about the “right” amount of variation.

The “right” dosage of variety

Of course, as usual in complex adaptive systems like teams, organisations or even single individuals: there is no such thing than THE one right thing. Same goes for the amount of variation when facilitating retrospectives.

Variation bascially can be found in three areas:

  1. the timeframe we look at (“iteration”)
  2. the people taking part (“team”)
  3. the chosen activities / formats

Variety in timeframe and people

My number one learning our of experience is: let your style vary in terms of the analysed timeframe and people who participate in the retro.


Varying style regarding the timeframe means first of all: don’t mechanically look back only one iteration “because Scrum says so”.

Go with your human intuition if you see that a bigger timeframe than just one iteration might be a good idea: go for it.

Go with what you observed and processed as their Agile Coach: if you think a retrospective framed around a certain topic (e.g. trust or unaddressed matters [1]) might be a good idea, then go for it!

Go with the team if they request to look at a certain area.
Ask people what they need if you (think that you) have no idea – or if in doubt.


Varying style with regards to people means first of all: don’t do anything “just because method/framework xyz says so”!

Invite other folks as needed e.g. for a single retrospective. That could be another team your team collaborates closely with or it could be people from the customer’s side.

And even if you (feel you) are a beginner in the field: go with your human intuition. You go this!

Even ‘being in doubt’ is a form of intuition. Your guts are telling you: “look, I don’t see the way clear enough, and that makes me feel uncomfortable…. but I so want to make a good decision”.

Being in doubt let’s you choose THE Agile Coaching joker you always have: ask the people you work with! Or the second best Agile Coaching joker: ask peers in your professional network for help.

Variety in activities

When it comes to variety in activities or retro formats, my number one advice (that might be almost too obvious) is: be conscious with choosing and varying your retro activities.

Do NOT vary just for varieties sake. Do NOT vary because you feel you need to prove your value by showing (off) e.g. with your “agile toolbox”.

Two things I truly learned over the years by feedback from the people I worked with (and which I am eternally grateful for):

  1. variety in terms of retro activities is fun and inspiring….
  2. … and: it can be straining too.

Variety can become straining

Too much variety in activities can be straining for the team especially if already “too much change” is ongoing within the whole organisation that is on their transformational journey.

Too much variety in activities can also be straining for yourself because YOU need to be prepared, YOU need to be truly comfortable with the activities you want to do with the team. That takes time and it takes energy.

Let’s sum it up…

When it comes to variety:

  1. go with your human intuition
  2. go with what you observed as their servant leader
    and with what you interpreted based on your professional experience
  3. go with the team – ask people what they want and/or need

My secret sauce often is a combination of 2 and 1 – or 3 and 1.

Maybe even spice it up with Agile Coaching joker no. 2: ask peers from your professional community [2]. Sometimes this works by just telling them your questions/doubts, things unfold like when doing rubber duck debugging / rubber duck coaching.

And you?

What is your “secret sauce” when it comes to retrospectives and variety or variation? I am very curious to hear from you!


[0] As a non-native English writer, I learned that “variety” is more suitable than my initially chosen “variation”. So I changed that compared to the very initial version of this article.

[1] As for addressing the unspoken matters (what we usually call “an elephant in the room”) there’s e.g. Willem Larsens Elephant Safari format

[2] If you’re looking for connection to other professionals and don’t know where to go, where to start: I am happy to help. Just drop me a line.

See you soon for part three