4L Retrospective: Liked – Lacked – Learned – Longed for

Agile retrospective meetings are a major part of agile collaboration. Since there are many different ways on how to set them up it can be quite difficult to see through all the possibilities that are given. In general agile retrospective meetings are defined as regular meetings of a team to examine past collaboration and to derive suggestions for improvement for future cooperation. You can read further into this topic in our article about How to run great retrospectives. There are many different agile retrospective techniques that can be used to structure your retrospective. One of those techniques is the 4L retrospective. 

4L retrospectives include four different attributes that categorise the discussion points. Those are:

  • Liked
  • Lacked 
  • Learned
  • Longed For.

In general it can be said that 4L retrospectives are useful when you want to emphasize the positive (Liked and learned) as well as the negative (Lacked and Longed for) working behaviours. Despite that 4L retrospective support looking at the events from a factual perspective rather than an emotional one. 

To give you further information on this agile retrospective technique we’ll give you detailed information on what the essence of 4L retrospectives are.

4L Retrospective: Liked

One of the four L’s is the section Liked. In this part of the retrospective the team should examine what they liked about the last sprint and discuss what went better than initially  expected. Questions that can be asked are: What went well? What did I like about our collaboration? What was better than in the sprint before? What should we keep using  in our next sprint? 

First of all, it is always important to talk about the positive things in order to keep the team members motivated. Agile retrospective meetings shouldn’t be used to complain all the time. Instead they are a tool to keep the team updated and to help running the collaboration more smoothly. Furthermore, it is very helpful if one recognizes well-running processes as such and can directly continue to use them. 

4L Retrospective: Lacked

The second section is Lacked. Throughout this phase the team members should discuss what they missed during the last sprint. What could you have done better? As described before even this phase shouldn’t be about whining. Instead you should use this phase for constructive feedback and the development of suggestions for improvement. 

This phase aims to reach several different goals: Find out what are your main difficulties and use them to improve your collaboration. 

4L Retrospective: Learned

The third of the four L’s is short for Learned. The penultimate phase is also used to figure out what went well. It can therefore seem like it’s similar to the first phase and hence redundant. The difference is that it is a little more specific. Instead of discussing the positive parts of the collaboration in general it aims to specifically find out what has been learned throughout the last sprint. This can be referred to technical (for example detecting the relevance of running safety checks) and nontechnical (for example detecting the importance of keeping each other informed) topics. 

The Learned-phase is important because despite discussing positive parts of your last sprint your team members will start detecting what they learned throughout your collaboration (and probably throughout your recent agile retrospectives). 

4L Retrospective: Longed for

Last but not least: The fourth phase means Longed for. As you can probably guess this means discussing what was missing in your last sprint. It is the last phase because the three phases of the 4L Retrospective build up to this final discussion. Only when it is known what went well, what went badly and what you have already learned, you can determine what is still missing. Questions that can be asked are: What did you desire in your last sprint? What was still missing for perfect cooperation?
As well as the discussion points in the third phase this can be referred to technical and nontechnical topics. 

This phase helps your team to set specific goals which you can work on during your next sprint. Be aware of setting realistic goals and working on them step by step.

How to design a 4L Retrospective

Getting used to new working habits isn’t easy. Thus we will give you a few tips and tricks to implement them in your agile collaboration. As soon as you get used to it you don’t want to miss it anymore in your working routines. 

Step 1: Before the agile retrospective meeting starts the moderator should create and hang up four posters with the headers Liked, Lacked, Learned and Longed for

Step 2: At the beginning of the agile retrospective meeting the moderator should explain the meanings of the four L’s. 

Step 3: Every team member gets several sticky notes. Everyone should write on them what they think about what they liked, lacked, learned and longed for. In order to avoid biases people aren’t allowed to talk during this step. The moderator manages the time whereas this step should take about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Step 4: Team members now have 10 to 15 minutes time to categorise their sticky notes and place them on the different posters. Take some time to make sure that doublicates are grouped accordingly as that is the basis for a proper prioritization in the next step.

Step 5: Usually you will have way more topics than you can discuss in the retrospective. That’s why it’s a common best practice to use dot voting in order to identify the most important topics for the team members. What is more urgent than other topics? If your team members don’t know how dot voting works you can explain it to them like this:

  • Tell the participant that each of them has a certain number of votes to state their preference for a category or a specific sticky note. Rule of thumb: Root from # of topics. So 16 topics would be 4 votes each.
  • Have the participants draw dots on the sticky notes or posters they want to vote for. 
  • After the voting the moderator just counts the votes and re-orders the topics based on the results of the voting. 

This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Step 6: Last but not least the team should discuss the highest-priority topics in more detail to derive action items. If you used dot voting the discussion should take place in an hierarchical order. Try to work out your main discussion points and do not end up in an overload of information. To avoid this the moderator should keep an eye on the time. In general the discussion should take about 20 to 40 minutes. The discussion of each sticky note shouldn’t last longer than 5 to 10 minutes. Timeboxing is key here.

In Summary: 4L Retrospective

4L retrospectives are an efficient agile retrospective technique which can help your team to implement agile retrospectives into your daily working routines. Nevertheless, there are still more possibilities to create retrospectives in order to vary the structure regularly. If you want to gain further insight in other agile retrospective techniques you should check out our upcoming articles.

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