What is the Four Aces Retrospective?

First proposed by Worklab in the Mini-Guide to Surviving Remote Meetings , the Four Aces Retrospective is a workshop format that helps Agile teams review and evaluate past performance (on a project or sprint) collaboratively. Simple to set up and easy to run, it provides a clear framework for identifying ways to improve future sprints.

During this workshop, participants are asked to share their thoughts, feelings, learnings, and ideas across 4 key areas:

  • I liked: What worked well? What should be celebrated? What processes or activities should be repeated again in the future? Who on the team deserves a shout-out?
  • I learned: What lessons were learned based on this experience? Are there ways to improve or optimise the process in the future? Should the team stop doing certain activities? What provided insufficient value for the effort that went into it?
  • I failed: What caused something to fail? What resources were missing? Was there a lack of structure or guidance? Was there too little time to do the work effectively?
  • I’ll try: What could improve productivity or efficiency? What could add more value? What’s missing today that could contribute to the team’s future success?

How to run a Four Aces Retrospective

  1. Step 1: Individual reflection

    The facilitator should give participants five to ten minutes to jot down ideas on sticky notes for each of the four areas above. Each sticky note should represent only one idea.

    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: Continuation of the reflection in pairs

    Group the workshop participants into pairs (especially if there are more than 6 participants) and give them about 10 minutes to share and compare their ideas. At the end of this 10 minutes, each pair should contribute three sticky notes to each of the four quadrants above.

  3. Step 3: Sharing ideas

    Then, go around the room, letting each pair share their ideas with the entire team.

  4. Step 4: Reflection in team

    The facilitator should give participants a few minutes to eventually share new ideas that could come up following step 3.

Tips and advice from an Agile Coach

Naya Luceau, Agile Coach and Scrum Master, provides some advice on how to takeaction on the learnings, insights, and feedback that emerge during theretrospective:

  • Each action must have a single person in charge—not necessarily the person who carries out the specific action, as that can be done by anyone on the team, but rather the person who is ultimately responsible or accountable for leading the charge
  • Each action must be realistically achievable and not subject to interpretation.
  • Each action must be able to be identified as “completed” at some point.
  • Each action must be “small” enough to be carried out in a “short” amount of time.

What does an action entail?

  • An action is not: “Increase recycling in offices globally by 10%.”
  • An action is: “Before next Friday, install posters above all recycling bins on the 3rd and 5th floors explaining what can and cannot be recycled.”
Naya Luceau portrait
Naya Luceau Naya Luceau, freelance Coach Agile & Scrum Master. Blog: Moi, c’est Naya.