In this post, I will explain the exercise called “Starfish”. This exercise can be found in the book: “Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives”, a book written by me and Ben Linders with the foreword from Esther Derby. The book can be downloaded by free in LeanPub.com or InfoQ.com, please download it and spread it within your colleagues.
What can you expect to get out of this technique
Starfish exercise is an evolution of the typical three questions that are used for retrospectives:
- What went well
- What did not go so well
- What will be improved
Instead of the typical three questions the starfish exercise contains a circle with five words:
- Stop – These are the activities that do not bring value to a team or to a customer. Activities that bring waste into the process.
- Less – These are activities where an effort required to perform such activities is much smaller than a benefit. Or the activities that were brought into the team in past but did not show any overall improvements to a process.
- Keep – Usually these are good activities or practices that team members want to keep. These activities are already being applied.
- More – Activities on which a team should focus better, perform more often. For example, many teams tell me how pair programming is good,yet they do not do it every time they should.
- Start – Activities or ideas that a team wants to bring into the game.
With the starfish exercise, teams can get a good overall picture of what’s going on within the team, what is working and what is not. They can get an overview about failed as well as successful work experiences in past. In my personal opinion, I think this is a great evolution of the typical three questions.
When you would use this technique
I believe the starfish exercise is quite simple and does not require any special occasion. Although, it might be interesting for situations when a team went through several ups and downs during the iteration. This technique reveals all good things and less positive things performed by a team. Therefore, this might be a good tool to make a summary of the sprint.
Starfish is suitable for any team, it does not require any specific level of maturity.
How to do it
The starfish exercise is quite simple. First we draw something like what is shown on the picture in a flip chart. One of the beauties of this exercise is the fact that collocation of a team is not mandatory. You can use, for example, tools like Lino to apply the exercise on non-collocated teams. This tool allows us to do everything what we need in order to run this exercise.
After having the picture on a flip chart, it´s good to start a brain storming session with a team allowing them to dump their ideas in the “Stop” area. After that, give 2-3 minutes to each person to read out loud its “stop” ideas. Afterwards, spend 10 minutes for a short discussion to see if everyone is aligned.
Repeat the exercise for each different parts: “Less”, “Keep” and “More”.
For the “Start” part, add one extra step and use Toyota approach choosing one single topic to “Start”. I would go for votes and see what is the most important topic that one should start with. After selecting the topic, design a small strategy to make sure a topic is well implemented. This strategy might include responsible persons, due date and most important success criteria. In order to know if the implementation was successful or not, we must have a success criteria.
I would like to highlight that a theme that is chosen in the “Start” part, does not need to be a new topic for a team, it can be an improvement of something that is not working well within the team.
Another important thing that I think it´s worth to mention, is the order of different “words” in the circle. I really like to start with: “Stop”, “Less”, “Keep”, “More” and finish with “Start”. I think this has a big impact. Starting with negatives topics and progressing little by little towards the positive ones will help the team to end the retrospective with a much more positive feeling than if they did it in a random order.
I honestly think the starfish exercise is really nice, but I really would love to get your feedback. Please comment on this and let me know your opinion.
On my next blog post I explain how to use the “Value Stream Mapping” exercise to run a retrospective.
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