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10 Steps to a Productive Retrospective

A productive retrospective is a key part to continuous improvement (aka Kaizen) for your team, process and culture. A retrospective is time to reflect back on what the team has done and how it can be changed for the better.


A retrospective is different than a “lessons learned” as they happen more frequently and during the execution of a project. Lessons learned generally happen at the end of a project and many do not prioritize the outcome so action can be taken. For this reason, and others, lesson learned meetings tend to be less beneficial to improving the overall process when compared to retrospectives.


  • Hold a retrospective every 2-4 weeks depending on the team’s speed
  • As the facilitator start the time together making sure each person has a stack of sticky notes to write on.
  • As the facilitator, find a blank wall and create spaces for Start, Stop and Continue. This can be done by writing on a sticky notes and putting it on the wall. Another option is to write the titles on a white board.
  • As the facilitator explain what Start, Stop and Continue mean.

    Start: things we want to start doing.

    Stop: Things we want to stop doing.

    Continue: Things we want to continue doing (this could be something we have been doing but it is not yet a habit).

  • As the facilitator explain the process of writing down something on a sticky note and putting it on the wall under Start, Stop or Continue. An example may be beneficial.
  • Start the clock. Give the team 5-10 minutes to write their thoughts down and put them on the wall. Remind the team that retrospectives happen with frequency so this is not an all-encompassing attempt.
  • Once all sticky notes are up review them with the room. Read each item out loud and elaborate briefly so everyone has an understanding of the item. Be sure to not let the retrospective get derailed by long discussions as this is not the place where a solution is going to be found.
  • Give everyone 5 votes. Explain that they may distribute their votes among the items however they like.
  • As the facilitator take the top 1 – 3 items as the vote count dictates. It is strongly recommended that only the top item be singled out as work will have to be done on it. Borrowing a core principle of branding, focus. Focus is what makes teams great which is why focusing on the most important thing is so beneficial. Taking on all the items in a retrospective will lead to it being a distraction instead of a source of continuous improvement.
  • Explain the next steps with the top item/s and how work will be done on them.

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