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How to make retro outcomes more sticky

Today is World Retrospective Day! I think that Retros are the most important agile activity. One of the things I struggle with is the follow-on. How can we make sure we do the stuff we decided on in the retro?

Over the past few years, I’ve been experimenting in retros and workshops I’ve run with various ways of doing closing activities. What I want to do is help people give themselves the best chance of doing the thing. It’s easy to get disctracted, and it’s hard to remember this new TODO on top of all the existing ones. Here are a few techniques I’ve tried.

Just Do It

The simplest, softest, way I tried was to ask people to write it down. (Just asking them to remember it is pretty much guaranteeing that nothing will happen! People will go back to their desk, back to work, and forget all about it!). This has limited success.

SMART goal

I wanted to offer a bit more help, so I tried using SMART goals. It depends on who (and when) you ask, but I like this definition:

  • Specific (add as much detail as possible, don’t be vague)
  • Measurable (I must be able to say “I’ve done it” or “I haven’t” (I prefer that focus to “What’s the metric for this?”))
  • Achievable (Can I actually do this?)
  • Relevant (Do I care about this?)
  • Time-bound (When should I check-in with myself to see if I’ve done it?)

It helps steer us towards a small, do-able, bit of work, and create a bit of accountability with ourselves. I used this for quite a while. Then I started to get a niggling feeling that something was missing.


I came across WOOP in another book. It takes a different approach than most techniques by focusing on what obstacles to action we might encouter and how we might get around them. The technique looks like this:

  • What is your wish?
  • What is the best outcome?
  • What is your main inner obstacle?
  • Make a plan.

I’ve tried wobbling the words a bit to fit the “actions from a retro” idea. I asked people to write down their answer to something like this:

  • What you want to do, based on what we learned in the retro?
  • What’s the best outcome you can imagine if you succeed?
  • What might get in your way? What impediments might arise?
  • How might you overcome the obstacles? How might you remove the impediments?

As I was reading a few books (Nudge, Switch, Atomic Habits) smallness and specificity bubbled back up as very important for succeeding in acting on our intentions. I felt like switching to WOOP has lost a bit of this. This sparked a memory of the classic Five Ws from journalism.


In a few recent workshops I’ve tried this 5W1H format:

  • What will you do?
  • When will you do it?
  • Where will you do it?
  • Who will be involved?
  • How will you do it?
  • Why do this?

Of course, once I switch to this, I felt like I now missing what WOOP have brought in! Ahem. I was poking around at some cognitive behavioral therapy stuff at the time, and in there I found a technique I liked: refining a plan, with an eye to obstacles or what might go wrong. And it jived well with a Growth mindset.

Revise it

After making a plan (using 5W1H), I ask these questions:

  • How likely are you to do this? Give it a score out of 10. 1/10 = Nope. 10/10 = Very yes. No judgement! Be realistic. (This sets the baseline.)
  • Why isn’t your score lower? (This helps you clarify why we want to do this, what bits we’re sure about.)
  • Is there something small you can do to make your score higher? (This helps to refine the plan, steering it towards success a little.).


I’m still experimenting! And still reading. I think I’ve created a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster with this 5W1H + score&tweak technique. But I also feel like maybe it’s going somewhere.

How do you end a retro? How do you try and help people follow through on the actions they decide on in a retro?