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After the first few retrospectives with a five-step structure and activities found at Retromat, I got the feedback that there's too much "playing", writing notes and post-its, rather than simply discussion. I personally find these to be a welcome change from the day-to-day of development during the sprint, and potentially useful in identifying stuff you might not think of straight away, but shouldn't force the team of course.

So are there some recommendations on how to organise effective and useful retrospectives, but with less impact of "card writing" and such?

  • I think you have raised an excellent point regarding the length of the Retrospective versus the amount of activities encouraged by Retromat. Personally I only ever pick one activity from the "gather data" or the "generate insight" lists since they tend to have exactly the same outcome. Opening and closing activities normally take less than 2 minutes. I have not raised this as a formal answer since it is more of an observation. – Venture2099 Feb 2 '16 at 9:46
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First of all it's a good sign that the team gave you feedback about it. It means they care.

Second. As a Scrum Master your job is to make sure things required in the Scrum Guide happen:

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to:

  • Inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools;

  • Identify and order the major items that went well and potential improvements; and,

  • Create a plan for implementing improvements to the way the Scrum Team does its work.

Was that happening on first few retrospectives?

If I were you, I would make sure the team understands purpose of this meeting and ask what format they'd like to try in order to make those points fulfilled. Dedicate a retrospective to figure out the way your team wants to do it. As you said - you shouldn't force the team to use a specific format. Use your knowledge to guide the team and help them to come with one. You've already showed possible variations so they have some idea around it.

Fun formats are a way to go time to time, in my opinion. The frequency needs to be suited for the team. After couple of raw discussions you'll sense that introducing some fun would be beneficial. Nevertheless, mind that people don't like changes too often. Once you pick a format for the meeting, stick to it and give it a try at least 3 times.

For the first time with new format people learn how it works. They should have an opportunity to explore it further to make most of it.

Once the team tried various of plans you can ask them (preferably before the meeting) what kind of format they'd like to go with.

I used to do 2-3 times Start-Stop-Continue activity on the retrospective and intersperse it with some new format. Lean Coffee is another, quite universal approach you can use.

  • +1 for Lean Coffee although it rarely leads to action. – Venture2099 Feb 2 '16 at 9:44
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You could try having an agenda in the meeting invite, something like:

Brainstorming - 10 min : when team write down their ideas according to the format of the retrospective, i.e. identify things on Start/Stop/continue.

Analyse and group - 10 mins : a nominated team member or scrum master scan and group similar topics.

Discussion - 20 mins : Probably the important part during which the team discuss on the various suggestions and identify the key one to tackle in the next sprint.

Voting - 10 mins : Team votes the action items to take forward.

Review and close - 10 mins : Review the action items from last retrospective and close the meeting with a clear plan on the items you have selected to work on.

Timings are just guidelines, could alter to meet your team size and needs.

You could add some fun bits like team votes for the best player of the sprint, social outings/team lunch plans for next sprint and so on!

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