What is the Genie in a Bottle Retrospective?

Inspired by the Arabian Nights tales, the Genie in a Bottle Retrospective asks participants to share ideas in the form of wishes: for their team, for their project, and for themselves. Not only is it a fun retrospective format, but it’s both simple and quick to set up and also an ideal way to help a team think proactively about the future in a positive (or wishful) way.

This exercise requires participants to make three types of wishes:

  • Wishes for the Team: A wish for the team to operate more efficiently, effectively, collaboratively, and harmoniously.
  • Wishes for the Project: A wish for driving greater impact out of the project.
  • Wishes for Themselves: A wish for contributing more value to the team or project.

How to run a Genie in a Bottle Retrospective

  1. Step 1: Individual reflection

    The facilitator should give participants five to ten minutes to come up with one wish (and not more!) for each of the three categories above and write them on sticky notes.

    Be sure to use “polling booth mode” to ensure participants don’t inadvertently influence each other with their ideas before it’s time to share.

  2. Step 2: Commenting and reorganizing ideas

    Once the time cap has been reached, participants should take turns sharing their wishes with the rest of the team. While this is happening, the facilitator should organize similar wishes into groups to visually display when there are overlapping sentiments in the team.

  3. Step 3: Proposal of areas for improvement

    Then, the facilitator should open up a discussion with the participants about what concrete initiatives could help make these wishes come true (especially for the team or the project).

  4. Step 4: Selection of areas for improvement

    Finally, the facilitator should invite participants to vote and select the most relevant initiatives to pursue. The three ideas with the most votes will be incorporated into an action plan.

Tips and advice from a seasoned Agile Coach

Amélie Aucomte, Agile Coach/Scrum Master at Infopro Digital, has led many Genie in a Bottle Retrospectives in the past. Here is her advice for getting the most out of them:

  • Keep the retrospective as structured as possible and be sure to take time to present the agenda before getting started. This should include:
    1. General rules for participating in the ceremony;
    2. Overview of the output from the last retrospective;
    3. Brainstorming and generating new ideas;
    4. Using dot voting to drive team decision-making;
    5. Identifying new actions or initiatives for the next sprint.
  • Remind participants about the purpose of this respective: To question the team’s processes and relationships in order to make them more effective. This relates directly to principle 12 of the Agile Manifesto: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
  • Be clear on the rules of engagement. This may include things like: giving everyone a chance to speak, not blaming anyone for anything, not passing any judgments, including only one idea per sticky note, adding initials to the sticky notes, etc.
  • Start with an Ice Breaker to create a relaxed atmosphere that will be more conducive to open and thoughtful dialogue. End the ceremony by collecting feedback from participants, for example, via an Agile Return on Time Invested (ROTI) exercise.
  • Create a space for all team members to be able to propose process improvements in order to prevent the same team members from dominating the exercise every time.