Check-in exercises for agile retrospectives

Categories Agile
Check-in exercised for retrospectives

Using a quick check-in exercise is a great way to start a retrospective. Not only does it let the participants warm up and get into the mood for the retrospective but it also allows you as the facilitator to make sure you haven’t misread or misunderstood the mood of the team. If you come to the retrospective prepared to explore some particular problem you’ve observed during the sprint, and have designed the retrospective to dive deep into this issue, the check-in allows you to make sure there aren’t bigger, more burning issues.

While repeating the same check-in sprint after sprint would allow you to track trends, I find it much more useful to avoid retrospectives getting repetitive through having a selection of exercises to vary between.

The easiest check-in you can do is probably to ask the team to rate the sprint on a scale from 1 to 5 but there are many check-in exercises that follow the same, very simple pattern:

  1. Each participant individually pick some option that represents how they feel about the sprint
  2. When the participants reveal their choice (typically through putting a sticky note on the wall) the explain very briefly, in a sentence of two, why they picked the option they did.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • As a facilitator, it is important to move things along swiftly during the check-in exercise. Don’t let the team dive into a discussion. Just let everyone explain their choice. There will be plenty of time to discuss later.
  • Resist the temptation to express your approval or disapproval of what a participant says. The participants will go one after the other, most likely without the need for you to say anything at all, but if you need to, stick to a neutral “thank you”, “who’s next” or “anyone left to go?”.
  • Adjust the check-in to the conditions. If your retrospective is intended to take 3 hours, you can allow a bit more time for the check-in but for a shorter retrospective, you will want to use a quick exercise so that you get as much time as possible for the main part of the retrospective.

Due to the time constraints, I tend to avoid exercises including too much drawing or thinking. Here are some of the check-in exercises I use most frequently (many of which I’ve borrowed from the fantasically useful site Retromat):

Rate the sprint

Rate the sprint check-in

Ask the participants to rate the sprint on a scale from 1 – 5 with 1 being awful and 5 fantastic.


Histogram check-in

This is basically the same exercise as the previous one but with a more visual result, which could be particularly useful when doing a retrospective with a large group. Place 5 sticky notes numbered 1-5 next to each other on the wall and let each participant place an empty sticky note above the number of their choice, creating a histogram (or bar chart).

Make a stand

Make a stand check-in

This is a further variation of the above. Rather than letting the participants place stickies, let them place themselves! Create a scale on the floor through placing a piece of paper with the word “Awful” written on it at one side of the room and one with “Fantastic” at the other and ask the participants to place themselves on the imaginary scale. With the right group of people, this can be good fun.

Draw a smiley

Draw a smiley check-in

Either you can simply ask the participants draw a smiley on a sticky note or you can prepare a flipchart with emojis and let them choose one by placing a dot (or an x).

Weather report

Weather report check-in

Prepare a flipchart with weather symbols and let the participants choose one. Or ask them to draw their own.

Pick a word

Pick a word check-in

Ask the participants to describe in one word how they felt during the sprint.

Target practice

Target practice check-in

Draw a dart board / shooting target and let the participants mark how far from a bulls eye the sprint was (or download my printable template).

Pick a card

Pick a card check-in with Dixit cards

Ask the participants to choose a card. It is possible to use a pile of postcards or print pictures off the internet but recently, I have been using cards from the board game Dixit, after being intruduced to them at a recent Scrum Gathering. Their abstract, evocative and very pretty pictures are perfect for the purpose.

Magnus Dahlgren – Scrum Master (CSP) and Agile Coach