Category Archives: retrospectives

Happy, Sad, Ideas, Thanks – A Retrospective

2014-03-28 11.20.39

I’m lucky enough to be part of a team that are open and honest. That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement, but they’re open and honest enough to tell me that our retrospective format is becoming a little stale. In theory I should have known this already. Alarm bells should be ringing when the actions for improvement start to dry up. I could have abandoned retrospectives altogether claiming that the team couldn’t possibly improve any more. Instead I tried some new ways to get the team more engaged and varied the format a little. This week we tried the Happy, Sad, Ideas, Thanks format.


The Setup

Using a whiteboard, flip-chart or large piece of paper on the desk, divide the area into 4 with perpendicular lines. Label each quadrant happy, sad, ideas and thanks. To clarify these are:

  • Something that happened that made you happy.
  • Something that happened that made you sad.
  • Ideas you have to improve the process.
  • Thanks you want to give someone for something they did.

I asked the team to write stickies and place them in the relevant quadrant. The team generally know what things to write on the stickies but if your doing retrospectives for the first time you may want to place constraints around what is suitable offering examples as guidance. In this session I gave the team the freedom to add as many stickies as they wanted and did not specify any limits on each quadrant.

We then briefly went through each sticky on the board allowing the team to clarify what they meant and why they placed it in the given quadrant. This gives the team the opportunity to have a shared understanding of each of the points. At this point we didn’t go into too much detail and discussion, but just enough to know what each sticky was about.



There were a few things I tailored in this format to suit our team needs. Firstly, I asked the team to dot vote the stickies to ensure that the ones we talked about were the ones most important to the team. Depending on how much time you have and how many stickies you need to get through, you may want to do this. I then ordered each sticky in priority order within each quadrant.

As well as prioritising which ones were important to the team, this also allowed the team to get up and get moving around by adding their dots to the stickies creating any further clarification amongst the team that was not covered earlier.

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The other tailoring was excluding the ideas quadrant from the dot voting. The ideas I wanted to make sure we discussed so these were automatically put to the top of the priority list. The ideas quadrant give you your best chance at coming up with concrete actions to improve the process.


What went well?

The one part of this I really liked is the quadrant for saying “Thanks”. It is often assumed that this naturally happens amongst the team, and sometimes it does but this allows a great opportunity to give direct feedback to your peers and recognize them for something they have done. The recognition is a great way to encourage your team to say “Thanks” more often, but also to encourage the continued behaviour that led to the “Thanks”.

This format is easy to set-up and facilitate so makes it easy to run and is a great entry level retrospective, particularly for new teams who are beginning to discover their ability to inspect and adapt.


What didn’t go so well?

As a Scrum Master you always want to improve. This can often lead to focusing on the elements that they were sad about. In this session we spent some considerable time focusing in this quadrant only to find out that although the team were unhappy about these items their degree of unhappiness was on a scale. Had we evaluated this scale of unhappiness immediately we could have focused on other items for improvement.

The retrospective format itself didn’t bring about any devices that helped the Scrum Master get beneath the surface which meant that this was largely down to their experience. This will naturally depend on the teams (Agile) maturity so some guidance may be needed to focus the team on improving process rather than items such as “We made good progress on X”.


What would you improve?

As mentioned previously their are scales of emotions and I think its useful to gauge this in some way. This could be by asking the team to rate their scale of emotion between 1 and 10 on the stickies for happy and sad allowing you to discuss your discussions on the right areas.

If you find that the team are feeling particularly pessimistic or downtrodden and all the stickies are placed in the sad quadrant you or the team are struggling to generate ideas for improvement you may want to limit the number of stickies per quadrant forcing the team to think about each quadrant.

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