5 Agile Games to Spice Up Your Retrospectives

As a member of an Agile team, you'll spend a lot of time in retrospectives or retros. But just showing up isn't enough; engagement is key to the success of the meeting.

Retros need active participation to ensure your team is on the path to continuous improvement, and Agile games are a great way to make it happen.

Since retros happen often, it's always a challenge for change agents and Agile practitioners to come up with new and diverse ways of keeping their teammates’ attention. Now, when most companies have gone remote, there's an even greater need for strong interaction during virtual meetings.

To keep things interesting, both virtually and IRL, here are some of our favorite Agile games you can play to spice up your retros!

#1 Keep KALM and be Agile

The first exercise is called KALM, which stands for Keep, Add, More, Less. It's a retrospective activity that helps teams to focus on current activities and align their perceptions of value.

To play this game, you start by dividing a board into four sections corresponding to the four letters of the name like in the picture below. Each area has a meaning:

  • Keep – something that you think your team is doing well and you recognize the value it brings
  • Less – something you currently do but you think you should do less of it
  • More – something you currently do but you believe will bring more value if you do even more of it
  • Add – a new idea, new activity or process, or something you have seen working before that you would like to start doing

More, Keep and Less should be aligned on an axis in this order, and Add can be on a side (see the picture below). Once the drawing is done, each team member writes his or her ideas for each category on a post-it and puts them on the board. When everyone is ready, you collectively read the items in each section and decide which to leave as a team.

KALM Agile Game

#2 No Pleasure, No Gain

The next Agile game on our list is called Pleasure and Gain, and its goal is to direct the conversation to how people feel. It helps you explore the relationship between the level of enjoyment and gain the team has experienced.

First, you need to draw the pleasure and gain graph as shown in the picture below.

Pleasure and Gain Agile Game graph

Next, you need to give instructions to the participants on how to add their notes to the graph. Ask them to list all the activities they do at work and answer two questions about each of them:

  • Do you feel pain or pleasure when doing this?
  • How much gain or loss do you have by doing this?

Then explain to your team what this graph represents, especially where the pleasure/gain magic quadrant lies and where the Big Pain intersection is (see picture below). Based on the answers of the questions above, ask them to put their activities in the corresponding places on the graph. 

Pleasure and Gain Agile Game Quadrant

When everyone has placed their activities, you should discuss what you can do to move each item towards the upper right pleasure/gain magic quadrant.

This Agile game originates from the Loss Aversion Theory by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. He discovered that the pain of losing is psychologically more powerful than the pleasure of gaining.

When we think of the Loss Aversion Theory as a complementary concept to Freud’s Pleasure Principle (the innate human tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain), it becomes clear how the Pleasure and Gain game could start very important conversations that can change the work a team chooses to do.

#3 Love the Way You Lie

This activity is often used as an ice breaker in its original form, but with a small tweak it becomes a great addition to spice up retro meetings. The game is called Two Truths, One Lie and is quick and easy to play for teams of all maturity stages.

Each team member will have to think of three statements referring to the last sprint. Two of them need to be true and one should be a lie. Then the team will have to guess which of them is a lie. There are three stages:

  • Set Up (7 minutes)
    Gather the team and explain the rules. Give them five minutes to come up with the three statements and write them down on post-its.
  • Play (3 minutes per person)
    Each team member has to present their statements. Then the group should discuss and choose the one they think is the lie. If it’s not easy to reach an agreement, have a vote and select the statement with the most votes. The presenter will then reveal to the group which of the statements is false and whether they have guessed or not.
  • Wrap Up Discussion (20 minutes)
    After all teammates have passed their turns, collect and categorize all the statements (Truths and Lies) which refer to negative outcomes. Discuss what you could do to prevent these things from happening in the future.

Then create a list of actionable solutions for each statement and ask the team to select the items they want to focus on in the next sprint by voting. Add the remaining actionable items to the retrospective backlog to be discussed for a future sprint.

#4 Kudos to You!

The Kudos Cards exercise is a great addition to your retros and can be used in every sprint as a way to appreciate and encourage good behavior towards teammates.

It’s a very simple game that can be played at the beginning or end of a retrospective meeting. You start by giving kudos cards (empty post-its) to each member of your team. If you’re willing to put more effort and creativity into it, you can create your own cards’ designs and print them out prior to the meeting.

The number of cards is the number of people in your team. Each person should use them to thank the others for their behavior during the sprint by acknowledging something that was done well by each colleague.

Set aside a space, either a temporary board or a permanent Appreciation Wall, and draw a column for each team member with their name on top. When everyone is ready they put their kudos cards on the board under the appropriate person's column. Take a few minutes to read them out loud and congratulate everyone for their achievements.

#5 WWW (Hint: Not the World Wide Web)

This game is a great way to gather data in a fun and efficient way. WWW stands for Worked well, kind of Worked, didn’t Work.

It’s a quick activity that requires nothing more than the usual post-its and a whiteboard that every Agile team has. You have to split the board into three areas for each of the Ws. Then instruct team members to write on the post-its their suggestions for activities of the last sprint to populate the sections.

Under "Worked Well" activities they should put the things that worked really well, delivered value, and they would like to continue doing. The "Kind of Worked" things should be these that somewhat worked, but they would rather tweak them a little bit. Finally, things that "Didn’t Work" are things that did not work at all and shouldn’t be repeated. Give them 5 minutes to prepare their notes and then ask them to put the post-its on the board.

Then discuss whether everyone agrees and take action to remove the activities that didn’t work from the next sprint. Also, spare some time to identify what adjustments should be made to the activities in the “kind of worked” column and make sure to implement them.

Agile Games for Remote Teams? Sure!

Nowadays, distributed teams are no longer an exception; they're the new normal. However, this doesn’t mean that remote teams should miss out on all the fun. These five games for retrospectives are a perfect addition to your virtual meeting as well!

Here are some tips that will help you implement them and create a healthier environment for your remote meetings:

  • Organize
    Make sure you've organized the retrospective meeting carefully in advance. To ensure attendance, send invitations and a detailed agenda in advance. For online meetings, this is particularly important as you can’t just walk over to your colleague and grab them if they've forgotten the retro. Include a link to the virtual platform and double-check that it works properly to avoid delays due to technical issues.
  • Visualize
    Ask your team members to turn on their cameras and microphones for the retros. This will make the experience more personal and ensure that you have their full attention as if you were in the same room. Most of us are often tempted to quickly respond to an email or check some deadlines during a meeting. However, this distracts us and we might miss an important takeaway.

    Moreover, for some of the games, like Kudos Cards, it’s very rewarding to see how people are smiling when they read the appreciation words from their colleagues. Smiles are contagious :)
  • Use Tools
    Get creative and prepare different messages and agendas for each meeting, so that it doesn’t become a repetitive activity but rather a box full of surprises. You can introduce a new game each time to keep the team guessing what they'll do next.

    Some Agile teams may be discouraged to play games during retros because they don’t have the whiteboard and post-its in this format. Luckily, there are a lot of tools that support retrospective meetings and help physical and remote teams to get the most of them. You might want to check out ScatterSpoke, which is a dedicated software for end-to-end retros support, or simply use one of the many virtual whiteboard solutions for collaboration. Our trainers often use Miro, Trello, and Google Docs with the teams they coach.
  • Take Screenshots
    During a virtual retro, it’s very easy to forget some action items and leave them in the meeting. Avoid this pitfall by taking a screenshot of the final version of your virtual board so you don’t forget to implement all the action items that came up during the meeting. It’s also more reliable than your notes and serves as a single source of truth for further reference.
  • Encourage Rituals
    When you were in the office, most people were going into meetings (especially long ones) with a glass of water, tea, or coffee. Remind your teammates to grab their soft drinks before the virtual meeting as well! This will help them feel more comfortable and will re-create the office ritual in a remote environment.

    You can also create new rituals, such as taking a photo of all your faces at the end of each retro and gather them in an album at the end of the year. This activity helps team members feel more related to the others and to the company as a whole. Think of other rituals that would be a good fit for your group.

Ready to Start Playing?

Agile games help your retrospective meetings be more engaging. If you’re determined to keep them productive and avoid monotonous gatherings, we recommend you try out these five activities and see how they work for your team. They'll help you structure the meeting goals in a fun game format but still gather useful data and reflect on your last sprint.

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