The starfish retrospective is the perfect generic retrospective. Most Scrum Masters start one of their first retrospectives with the starfish retrospective, and most teams have tried it. Because the starfish retrospective is generic it can be used in almost any retrospective. You can imagine that is one of the reasons it is so popular.

The prerequisites for this retrospective are simple, a whiteboard, some markers, and post-its. Or a digital whiteboard for distributed teams. If you want to host it digitally, I recommend using Retrium.

Format

The starfish retrospective gets its name from the resemblance of a starfish when the board is divided up into five categories, it looks just like a starfish. The starfish retrospective looks as follows:

The starfish retrospective format
The starfish retrospective format

The five categories of the starfish can be described as follows:

CategoryDescription
Keep doingThe category for the team to put things in that worked for them, and what they would not like to miss.
More ofThings that happened that they liked, but could be used more.
Less ofThings that happened that the team did not like, but does not want to stop completely with.
Start doingThings that the team did not do in the last sprint, but what they feel could help the team.
Stop doingThings the team is absolutely not happy with. What is something we need to stop with!
The five categories for the starfish retrospective

Hosting the starfish retrospective

Start your starfish retrospective by doing a warmup activity. A small under 5 minutes wake-up activity for the group. This helps in setting the mood and getting everyone in an active collaborative mood. One of my favorite games is the weather report. Based on this retrospective format, but smaller. Every team member tells their weather report of the last iteration. Was the last iteration a thunderstorm, or a sunny day?

When the intro game is over. Give everyone post-its and pens. And let them start putting down post-its. Set a timer (weirdly enough 7 minutes seem to be the magic mark). If the group has some trouble coming up with things, iterate over the major incidents of the last iteration to give inspiration.

When all post-its have been placed on the whiteboard, go through them. Do you spot any overlapping issues? Combine any double post-its, and ask the group if they notice anything. If you are done grouping and discussing, you can start gathering action points. Any technique will do. My personal favorite is dot voting.

Aim for one to three action points. Any over 3 will likely not get done. Make sure to keep them precise and actionable. In my opinion, a good action point can be “checked off”. Meaning they are not too vague (like improve testing).

Conclusion

The power of this retrospective is that the form is simple, with a minimal explanation anyone can participate in this retrospective. Another positive aspect of this retrospective is that since there are 5 categories, it can be easier to place your post-its. There are more choices than just “good” or “bad”.

If you need a generic retrospective the starfish retrospective is an excellent pick! No nonsense and easy to understand. If you have some specifics you want to target with the retrospective, or are looking for a more advanced retrospective? Then it might be better to look for a better suiting retrospective form. If you are looking for one of those forms, check the retrospective category containing all my hosted retrospectives.

This retrospective is part of the retrospective challenge for 2020. Interested in more retrospective forms? Sign up for the newsletter, and you will be up to date on new retrospectives!