Retrospectives are an essential tool for highlighting opportunities for change, generating process improvements, and generally ensuring a team is moving in the right direction. There are some standard models for running retrospectives, but a slight change in the approach can lead to dramatically improved outcomes. One model that has created meaningful results for many teams is the 4Ls Retrospective.
The 4Ls Retrospective model is an attempt to capture the natural thoughts that team members might have that can lead to continuous improvement. We naturally tend to think and share in terms of things that we appreciate, lessons learned, things that were missing, and that which we wish we had. 4Ls leverages that natural thinking in a focused and helpful way.
This may be the most simple. What were the positive aspects of the sprint that the team enjoyed or appreciated? This can encompass any aspect of the sprint, including actions, processes, or achievements. What went better than expected? This is all about the positive.
Any good sprint includes opportunities to learn new things. Were there any new discoveries that stood out? Everything is on the table here, from technical findings to interpersonal learnings. It can be results of formal experiments or things that just bubbled to the surface.
It would be a rare event to finish a sprint and find nothing lacking. Was there something missing from the last iteration? Could something have been done better? Was there a resource lacking that would have made things run smoother?
There is a subtle, yet essential difference between "lacked" and “longed for." In the previous category, the team identified things that they saw were missing. Now it is time to dream about things the team wished were possible, or tools they wished existed or were available to them. These are things that may or may not be possible but would improve the chances of completing a successful project.
In many ways, a 4Ls Retrospective is run like any other model. Facilitators should set up the room with posters for each L. The session, as with other methods, should be time-boxed with 30-60 minutes of time allocated, depending on the size of the team. The facilitator begins by explaining the process and categories and offers some 4L examples. Participants are then given sticky notes and time to write down their own 4L examples from the sprint. After the allocated time, the sticky notes are hung on the appropriate posters. These notes are then grouped and categorized (often by a voting system to determine priority.) Finally, the facilitator leads the group in a discussion around the topics listed on the posters.