Complete Retrospectives Guide
40+ pages of tips and examples to make your online retrospectives a success. 100% free.
Get the Guide
< Back to Neatro's Blog

How to run the 4Ls Retrospective

The 4Ls retrospective

Facilitating Agile retrospectives is no easy job, especially in the current remote work conditions.

Are you a Scrum Master, an Agile Coach, or simply a team member willing to facilitate your next team retrospective

Are you looking for a simple but powerful retrospective template that will help your team grow?

Well, search no more!

The 4Ls (or Four Ls) model is a very popular and versatile technique used by many Agile teams all over the world. Plus, it is one of my favorite templates. 

Let’s see how your team could generate fruitful insights, thanks to the 4Ls!

In this article, you will learn:

  1. What the 4Ls retrospective template is all about

  2. Why and when you could use this activity format

  3. How to run your next online retrospective with the 4Ls template

  4. 3 tips to make your next online retrospective a success

What is the 4Ls retrospective template?

The 4Ls model, used as a retrospective technique, is a great way for your team to gather information and reflect on past behaviors and events. With this activity, your team discussions will be divided into four different columns. Oh, by the way, the Ls stand for liked, learned, lacked, and longed for.

❤️ Liked Things you really enjoyed. e.g., our CEO congratulated us on our latest feature release.

📚 Learned Things you have learned. e.g., we should always ask for help from our Product Marketing team when crafting a Product release note.

🌵 Lacked Things the team missed. e.g., we missed some SEO expertise to address our homepage redesign efficiently.

📅 Longed for Something you wished for. e.g., spend more time doing backlog refinement all together.

Have you noticed how broad those four terms are? This is why this retrospective format is so easy to understand by any new team member. 

This technique was designed to give a high level of flexibility to the retrospective. 

Your team members could be talking about collaboration, roles, resources, mission, value… or any topic that would be relevant to the latest work cycle.

Why would I use the 4Ls retrospective template, and when?

As we mentioned, the 4Ls retrospective is super easy to set up. This quality could give you a considerable number of occasions where this template would help you gather remarkable insights.

Of course, you could select this facilitation technique for recurring retrospectives

But let’s say your team runs frequent retrospectives with the same model, over and over again. If you want to bring fresh perspectives to your next retrospective without having to spend too much time preparing for the activity, the 4Ls might be a great fit. 

The great versatility of the 4Ls could also allow you to use this template outside of retrospective meetings.

Many teams actually run the 4Ls to conduct an event post-mortem (such as a conference) to gather feedback from the public and the event’s management committee. If you’re working on projects with external actors (e.g., agencies, consultants), think about shaping your next project post-mortem with the 4Ls method.

You could also use the 4Ls technique as a self-evaluation to review your personal performance

Simply put, any activity made to foster continuous improvement (for a team, the people behind a project or an event, or just for yourself) could definitely be efficiently run with the 4Ls template.

How can we use the 4Ls template?

How to run the 4Ls retrospective online

The 4Ls retrospective is one of the most used templates used by the Neatro community. We have built and enhanced this activity with the support of our users.

Note that you can try the 4Ls model with your team for free by signing up for Neatro. No credit card is required. Note that participants do not need to create accounts to join a retrospective with Neatro. 

Although we use the Neatro experience to show how to run the 4Ls retrospective model online, you can follow this guide and apply our tips for any other tool. Here we go!

Step 1: Write comments

Let people write ideas and avoid group thinking. All right! Let's consider that you have already run an Icebreaker with your team and have done a follow-up on the action items from the last retrospective. 

Your team is now ready to start the 4Ls activity.

This first step aims to let the participants write comments and post them in the different columns of your board.

Make sure you start a Timer. Keeping track of time is a simple but crucial tip to ensure your team will successfully run an efficient retrospective.

Each column of your board helps you organize your ideas. Even if you are the facilitator of this retrospective, you will most likely take on the participant's role as well, right? Try to be as specific as possible so that your teammates can easily understand your comments.

To provide an appropriate level of psychological security, allow participants to share comments anonymously.

At this stage, you want to avoid group thinking at all costs. People should not influence each other in the process. Make sure people cannot see what other participants are writing in this step.

Reveal all comments after everyone has finished adding comments.

👍 With Neatro: participants will only see their own comments at this step. They also have the option of writing comments using their name or anonymously. As a Facilitator, you will be able to set a Timer visible to everybody. Also, when a participant is done writing comments, he/she can click on “I’m finished” to let everybody know he/she’s ready to move on to the next step. 

The Liked and Learned columns of the 4Ls retrospective

Step 2: Group comments

Get your board lean and well organized. This step allows you to regroup similar comments and attach/create topics.

1/ Drag and Drop Grouping

You might have a lot of comments displayed on the board at this point. Regroup similar comments to help your teammates understand the weight of each idea.

👍 With Neatro: if you find similar ideas, drag a comment on another to create a group. Click on the group to display all of the comments.

Grouping comments 4Ls

2/ Use topics to better identify your challenges

Regrouping similar comments is not enough! Adding topics will significantly help you organize your team's ideas. 

"What's a topic?" you may ask. 

It could be anything. We usually tend to see "core team dimensions" reflected in the topics (e.g., Ownership, Value, Speed, Process, Collaboration, etc.). Still, you could create any topic that would help you efficiently manage your team's comments.

👍 With Neatro: To add a topic to any comment on Neatro, click on the "Add Topic" button. We already created 10 Neatro topics for you based on the most common team challenges, but you can also create your own topics.

Retrospective comment topics example

Step 3: Vote

Time to prioritize items to focus on what really matters.

Proceed to a vote session to narrow down the number of items you would like to discuss in the next phase.

Two rules that we heavily suggest to apply at this step:

  • Make sure that nobody can see the other's votes,

  • Allow each participant to spend their votes on one or multiple items.

👍 With Neatro: the number of votes can easily be changed if needed. The Facilitator needs to click on the wheel icon to update the maximum number of votes per person.

Adapt the number of votes in your 4Ls retrospective

Step 4: Build your team Action Plan

Collectively define what needs to be done to make the team grow. Discuss the most voted topics or comments with your team to create action items.

Assign an owner to each action item, and provide a short and clear description so everyone can understand how to resolve their action items.

👍 With Neatro: you can play out with a collection of sorting rules and filters to better identify the comments that need to be discussed. Once you're done with the Action Plan, you can access your retrospective report.

Action plan step of a 4Ls retrospective

3 tips to make your next online retrospective a success

I know you are ready and super excited to launch your 4Ls retrospective with your team but wait! 

You might as well love those quick and simple tips to run a fantastic team meeting.

Tip #1: Add an ice-breaker to let everybody “psychologically enter” the meeting

Break the ice by introducing short activities such as sharing lively anecdotes ​ with the team. Be creative!​

The Question Game, a great icebreaker for your retrospectives

Tip #2: Make sure everyone is heard

Providing a space where everyone feels safe to discuss and share their opinions is crucial. Even more in a remote working environment.​

Tip #3: Empower your team members

In a distributed retrospective, ask team members to divide the action items among themselves.​

If you’d like to discover more practical tips, I warmly suggest you to read our Remote Retrospective in 2021: The Complete Guide.