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How to conduct an Agile retrospective: The Learning Matrix

Learning matrix illustration composed of a happy smiley, a sad face, a light bulb and a crown.

You are working in an Agile environment, the sprint is almost over, and you want to make sure that you are picking the best retrospective activity for your team.

As stated by Larry Apke in his book “Understanding The Agile Manifesto”, we know that well-executed sprint retrospectives are key to lead to better software development. Teams are made of multiple individuals with different personalities and different needs, this is why the “one retrospective activity fits all” doesn’t exist.

There are plenty of retrospective activities to do, but all should be executed with two things on your mind: keep these meetings engaging and productive.

One of the most common, yet effective retrospective activities to do with your team is the Learning Matrix. Here’s why and how to conduct this activity.

What is the Learning Matrix retrospective?

The Learning Matrix retrospective’s biggest strength is to perform a retrospective meeting while maintaining a positive environment. Just like any Agile retrospective, you want to find practical improvements by addressing what went wrong and what went well. To prevent your team members from feeling unmotivated with all the negative aspects encountered, you’ll have to help them give recognition/appreciation to their peers and brainstorm on constructive ideas.

Preparing this meeting

This meeting is composed of four phases: Collect comments, Presentation, Vote, Action plan.

Plan one hour to conduct this activity. If you are using a whiteboard, draw a 2x2 matrix with four equal squares.

  1. 🙂 Draw a happy face in the top left corner for the things team members liked and would like to do again.

  2. 😟 Draw a sad face in the top right corner for the things your team disliked and would like to stop doing.

  3. 💡 In the bottom left corner, draw a light bulb for new ideas to try.

  4. 👑 In the bottom right corner, draw a crown (or something your team likes) to celebrate people they appreciated.

It’s happening!

1. Collect feedback

Allow 5 to 10 minutes for participants to individually write down their thoughts. At this step, you want to avoid group thinking as much as possible. Feel free to give them an indication that they have reached half the time so they won’t forget to cover all the topics. If one or more of the participants need more time, you can add an extra 5 minutes.

2. Notes presentation and aggregation

After this short moment, you will ask them to present their ideas to the group and paste their notes on the matching sections of the matrix. This exercise should stay short and simple. Remind them to provide some context when they are doing this presentation. Also, it is essential to mention to your team that there are no bad ideas. Everyone should feel confident to expose their thoughts without being judged.

It would be best if you aggregated sticky notes of the same topic to make it easier for the next step.

3. Select topics

Now it’s time to narrow down the notes to a few requiring attention. Give your team members markers to vote on the ideas they believe are the top priority. Allow five votes per team member. Feel free to adjust the number of votes if you have a tie. The voting phase is core to resurface actionable topics; everyone involved in the retrospective must participate and vote.

4. Action plan

This phase should be fun and constructive. Discuss the selected notes with your team to evaluate how these ideas could be an improvement to your next sprint. When creating action items, make sure to give them a clear title/goal and assign one or more owners. Ask your team if they would like to have these items added to their Jira’s board, or if they prefer to keep them in a separate environment. Having a board and dedicated owners help your team members being accountable for their team’s health.

Quick tips before you go!

Keep track of your team’s action items

You will be able to track progression and assess what worked and what didn’t. You will be able to uncover patterns and the real challenges your team encounters.

Ask for feedback

It is an excellent practice to ask for feedback at the end of your retrospective meetings to improve this activity continuously.

I hope this article helped you perform the Learning Matrix retrospective. You can find this retrospective template on Neatro. Give it a try, and feel free to reach out to me if you want to share some feedback about the app!