The 4Ls, a Retrospective Technique

October 17, 2013 Terry Densmore

As of late I have had several questions from teams on how to improve their retrospectives.  The idea behind the retrospective is to give the team an opportunity to reflect on the sprint.  There are several ways that teams can take.  One of those ways is the 4Ls originally introduced by Mary Gorman and Ellen Gottesdiener. I have used this several times in the past and highly recommend it. I like the 4Ls for teams that are just standing up and need an approach to help facilitate the retrospective or for retrospectives that seem to be stagnant.  Enough on how much I like it, what is it?!?

The 4Ls are:

  • Liked – What did I/we like during this sprint?
  • Learned – What did I/we learn during this sprint?
  • Lack – What did I/we lack during this sprint?
  • Long For – What do I/we long for as an improvement etc.

My approach to this is, to grab four pieces of easel paper and spread them as far out in the room as possible.  Give each member of the team post-it notes, some people choose a different color for each L.  I don’t like that approach because those colors could influence others to try and match that number of say likes “oh man I have only have one like, what else did I like?” It’s not a competition, it is a technique to help inspect and adapt!  I give everyone the same pens and the same color post-its.  Give the team 20 minutes to come up with their 4L post-its.  Again some people try to time box each ‘L’, I am not a fan for the reason already stated about a different color post-it.

After the time is up have the team get up and place their post-its on the easel paper around the room.  I usually look to break the team up into pairs or trios to tackle each piece of easel paper.  The goal of this is to assign the pairs to a piece of easel paper and give them ten minutes to try and categorize the post-its into some type of theme/topic.  Once this has been completed the teams present their findings to the group, this typically spawns further discussion.  As the teams present, the scribe can take notes on this and identify some goals that come out of the presentations. These goals can make their way to sprint planning to strive to make improvements.  Some of these goals may be team based or an impediment that the ScrumMaster can take care of after the retrospective.

I have found this to be a great approach to retrospectives and highly recommend you give it a try!


About the Author

Terry Densmore

Terry Densmore is a Product Manager at CollabNet VersionOne. Previously, Terry spent three years as an agile consultant on the Services team. He has introduced agile to multiple disciplines including software, mechanical, and electrical engineering teams. Terry also helped conquer the myth that agile cannot be as successful with distributed teams.

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