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How to conduct the Pirates retrospective

A treasure in a dark cave.

Written by Benjamin Cotrel & Julien Valente.

Agile retrospectives are not only checklist project audits or postmortems. They are also opportunities to focus on processes and the team’s issues. When creating or picking a new retrospective activity, you have to focus on what you want to achieve with your team, and what is your team’s context

So, you used the most common retrospective formats like Start/Stop, Keep/Drop/Start, or 4L, and you are starting to feel bored. Chances are your team is, too. If you keep doing the same ceremony, your meetings will lose their effectiveness and you won’t be able to correctly help your team. How can you add some variety to your retrospective meetings?

To help you choose the right activity, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Are team members working well together? 

  • Do they complete their sprints? Is your team’s velocity a problem? 

  • Do stakeholders trust your team to fulfill its goals? 

  • Are team members aligned with your company’s objectives? 

  • How is the collaboration between team members?

If you want to perform a productive meeting that focuses on your team’s pride, helping you to maintain a positive environment, the Pirates retrospective is made for you!

What is the Pirates retrospective?

The Pirates retrospective is good for opening up a conversation about the things your team likes and then creating an action plan to keep and improve these things. This activity is based on the Treasure Island framework by Paul Flewelling.

Preparing this meeting

For this exercise, we won’t use a matrix to collect comments. Instead, we will use the illustration below as support. Draw an island with a treasure at its center.

💡 Drawing this exercise with your team can be a good icebreaker before starting the meeting. It will also help to understand how this meeting will be conducted.

1. A treasure, but why?

For this activity, the treasure is your starting point. Ask your team members to think about what they are proud of (their treasure) for the past sprint or project. 

  • For example, it can be the Product/Project quality, the team’s connectedness, a new feature they just released, etc. 

Give them five minutes to write down one treasure per person. Invite your team members to present their treasures and process to a dot voting session to put the most voted item on the island.

Pirates island and post-its

2. The obstacles

Once the treasure is clearly identified and placed at the center of the island, ask participants to think about one obstacle that could threaten the treasure

  • To help them understand what you are asking for, feel free to give them these examples: bad description of requirements, bugs, context switching, lack of time, silos, the amount of work, etc. 

Gather these obstacles around the treasure. Group similar ideas if possible.

Obstacles around the treasure.

3. Your team’s skills and tools

Now it is time to think about your team’s skills and tools. The reason behind this question is to see if they have everything to pass the obstacles.

  • For example, it can be their collaboration skills, their QA process, their adaptability, their motivation, etc.

skills and tools

Once you have collected all of this data, it is time to narrow down the numbers. Check if your team possesses the skills or tools to destroy one or more obstacles.

4. Select obstacles

If there are still a lot of obstacles, proceed to a dot voting session to isolate the most critical ones. Adjust the number of votes if you have a tie. If you and your team members are confident that you can resolve all of these items, you can skip this voting phase.

The island with your team's post-its.

5. Action plan

This phase should be fun and constructive. Discuss the selected obstacles with your team and give them some time to brainstorm and find solutions against these threats. 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 Asana project, Trello, etc), 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 assess what worked and what didn’t. And maybe, you will discover patterns and recurring challenges your team faces.

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 Pirates 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!

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