Once Upon a Time in Retro


Few months ago I wrote an article about Online Retrospective. I closed the article with a plan on trying new method for the next retro.
Did it go well? Humm… No! 😀
The next retro was again dull and silence.

Then I started to think what could be done better. I discussed with some people, read some recommendation, think about it during the sprint.
One good friend of mine, who is also a Scrum Master gave me this insight:
People will be interested to something that relates to them and give them benefit.

Activities, games, gift, etc are only the tools.
Focusing on the tools only without meaningful message and outcome will not make people engaged.

Just like if you have a complete toolbox but you don’t know how to use it or when to use it, then it will be just a box of tools.


There are some misunderstanding from lots of Scrum Masters that in Sprint Retrospective the role of the Scrum Master is only to facilitate the event.

The Development Team should come up with the content of the Sprint Retrospective since they are the one who dealt with the day to day work.
The Scrum Master will only need to ask what went wrong, what went well and what needs to be improved.
Is it?

I don’t think so.

The Scrum Guide clearly express that The Scrum Team are the one that needs to come up with point of improvement.
Yes, Scrum Team… not Development Team. That includes Scrum Master and Product Owner as well.

During the Sprint, Scrum Master needs to keep on observing what needs to be improved, what are the issues the team face, what achievement the team have.
These observations will later bring to the Sprint Retrospective to be discussed.
Of course you don’t need to wait until retro to discuss an issue. You can discuss in day to day basis, but in retro this can be brought up again.

Usually, when the team get silence and not giving any feedback in the retro, you can start throw your observation point as a bait and discussion will flow even to the points you missed to observe 🙂


So let’s just start with an example.

Last sprint, I observed that we have some stories that kept on carried forward to next sprint. From the day to day communication, I observed that the team not really understand what is expected from those stories.

They asked the Product Owner and the Product Owner either explain or needed to check to the stakeholder for more information.

There were some other observations I made, but I decided to take that one to discuss further in Sprint Retrospective.

This is when the creativity of the Scrum Master is challenged.
You cannot just pop up in Sprint Retrospective and say “Hey guys, we have some stories that kept on brought from sprint to sprint. Why is that?”
That won’t be so nice.
You will not get anything by asking that. You might get excuses or even worse, you will loose the trust from the team.

So I was thinking on how to discuss that in a different and fun way.
Some way that can make them come up with the point by themselves and discuss a solution of it.

Once Upon A Time

I didn’t know where it came from, suddenly this “Once upon a time” sentence came to my mind.

It’s like a game when you had when you were kids with your friends (if you never play this, maybe our childhood time are different :D).

You start a story with “Once upon a time …. “ , the one person continue with another sentence, followed by the other person, followed by another until the story completes.
By the end of the cycle, you will read a full story.
The complete story usually will be funny or surprising because everyone will have their own sentence to complete without discussing one to another.

So I used that in our Retro.

I set a title: VACATION.
Then I told the team: “Guys, I need you to complete a story about vacation. Each of you can take turn to write a sentence. Our time box is 5 minutes. Let’s see what we can get in 5 minutes”

FYI, I use miro as our collaboration board.

I let them do the game for 5 minutes. And guess what… the team only produce 2 lines of sentences after the time box end.

After 5 minutes ended, I said to the team: “Okay, now let us all stop now and discuss in 2 minutes what was the issue and what can we do better to complete the story in the next 5 minutes”

The team started to discuss and they come up with:

  • We didn’t know what vacation story you want
  • We didn’t know how where to go for the vacation, what vehicle we’re going to use, how much money we have, how many people going, etc
  • We have connection issue, very slow in my house
  • I cannot edit the textbox since it’s locked by other team member
  • We don’t talk to each other when we’re making the story

Then I said: “Okay then what can you do better for the next sprint?”

The team came up with:

  • We need to discuss in detail what you really expected from the vacation
    I said “Let’s do, after this 2 minutes, we will have another 3 minutes for discussion”
  • It’s better if one person type and the others give idea on what to type
  • If someone has slow connection and difficult to edit miro, he can just speak and other will type the sentence
  • One person can give more than 1 sentence

I was so happy to see their takeaways, then I said “Awesome guys! 🙂 Now before we move on, can you relate our activity with our sprint?”

We started to discuss and the conclusions are:

  • The first 5 minutes is like our sprint
  • The 2 minutes discussion is like our sprint retrospective
  • We can change how we want to do the work in the Sprint Retrospective (this refers to revise the DoD in Sprint Retro)
  • We need to have Sprint Planning before we run the sprint and we should get the right understanding there in the Sprint Planning.
    I asked them “What will we do in the Sprint Planning?”
    These are what they answered:
    • The title “vacation” is like our sprint goal and we need to understand the goal before we start a sprint
    • We need to get the understanding of the goal from our Product Owner
    • Product Owner needs to really know what he wants to achieve (our Product Owner words during the discussion was “I need to have vision”).
      I asked them “Who is the Product Owner in this activity?”
      They said “You”

I was so happy. They understood the points I tried to convey.
Then I said: “Perfect! Now let’s continue with 2 minutes discussion. You can ask me whatever you need to know from the title vacation”

The next 3 minutes, I shared my expectation and they asked me some questions about that.

Then we started another 5 minutes to complete the story.

The next 5 minutes (or we can relate to sprint #2) went better.
The team finally complete a story.

After the 2nd 5 minutes, I stopped the game and we discussed again on what was different this time — this, we relate to the sprint retrospective for the 2nd sprint

Similar results came up, with the additional of:

  • Communication is the key
  • Retrospective (the 2 minutes discussions) is important so we can improve our way of working
  • Planning (the 3 minutes discussion) is important to understand the goal
  • Revisit the DoD is important
  • There were some stories from our current sprint that kept on carried forward to the next sprint from our current sprint because we didn’t really understand about it, we need to get better understanding before we work on it.

I closed the retro with “I am so happy that you all find your own improvement points. Let’s implement what we learned from today in our Sprint Planning. I hand over the next session to you, our Product Owner”

Sprint Planning carried on with the Product Owner leading the discussion.


The activity that we played in the retro maybe simple and just like kids game. But that simple game reveals lots of improvement from the team themselves.

The most important thing about retro is not the activity, but realizing the points of improvement and the action plans to make it better for next sprint.
There are some times when the team can come up with their own points without any activity, but there are some times they need a bait to reveal more points.

Even though I said that Scrum Master needs to observe, doesn’t mean that Scrum Master will be the one to give point of improvement in the retro. The whole Scrum Team need to realize their strength, weakness and point of improvement.

Remember, activity or games are just a tool. The message behind it is what matters the most.

Be creative, keep it simple, be attentive, be better

Scrum On!

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