Starfish Retro Format – Keep, Stop, Start, Less, More

When thinking of starfishes you’re probably thinking of your next vacation, boat tours and nice ocean breezes. I guess you’re not thinking about how to plan your next agile retrospective meeting with your colleagues. But there’s every reason to broaden your horizons. To support you with that we’ll explain to you what the Starfish Retro Format is, how you use it and what advantages come with it. 

Agile retrospective meetings are a major part of agile collaboration. As explained in our article on How to run a great retrospective team retrospectives are made of five different phases which are alle used to gain insight on what is working well and what can be improved for your future cooperation.

What is the Starfish Retro Format?

The Starfish Retro Format is an agile retrospective technique which can be implemented in the second phase of agile retrospectives: Gather data.

This phase aims for reflecting the previous work and finding out what went well and what changes are needed in order to improve your cooperation. This is simpler than it sounds.

Using the Starfish Retro Format can help structuring this phase by providing categories for topics that should be discussed. These are Keep, Stop, Start, Less and More.

We’ll now give you an insight into what these categories contain.

Starfish Retro Format: Keep

This category is used to explore what is already working well in your collaboration and therefore should be kept in your daily working routine. To figure this out you can ask the following questions:

  • What went well in the past sprints?
  • What should we keep up?
  • What has eased our cooperation in the last sprint?
  • What do I want to keep doing?
  • What is helping us to reach our goals?

As you can see, the questions are used to inspire your team members to think about what they do like about your collaboration and what they want to keep using in order to have a smooth and effective working behaviour. 

Starfish Retro Format: Stop

The second category is “Stop”. It’s quite the opposite of “Keep”. This one is used to reflect the negative parts of your last sprint. Questions that can be asked in order to discuss this category are:

  • What didn’t work out?
  • What made us angry?
  • What do we have to stop doing?
  • What hindered us in reaching our goals?
  • What made cooperation more difficult?
  • What problems did occur? 

Even though it can be uncomfortable to talk about negative aspects it is really important to do this. It’s the only way to solve these problems and to gain a deeper understanding for the roots of your difficulties.

By the way: If you like this retro format, you can open it directly in the team development tool Echometer:

This is what it looks like to open a retrospective in the Echometer tool: Click on the button and invite your team – no login required 🙂 As you can see, it even gives you the option to choose from more retrospective ideas.

Starfish Retro Format: Start

In this phase, you and your teammates should develop ideas together to make your future work more efficient and better. For this purpose you should consider strategies and steps that should be implemented in your next sprint. In order to develop those ideas the following questions can be helpful:

  • What should we implement in our daily working routines?
  • What can be useful for easing our agile collaboration?
  • What do we want to try?
  • What could help us reach our goals?

Even though the answers to these questions can be quite speculative it is always helpful to try out new things. Maybe some of you heard or read of new ways of working together. This is the opportunity to address these ideas and try them out in the next sprint. And who knows – maybe you will discuss this next time at “Keep”?

Starfish Retro Format: Less

This category is similar to “Stop” but covers topics that are less serious. During this step you can collect aspects of your agile collaboration that didn’t go too well and therefore should be used less in your next sprint. Some work processes are necessary for certain areas, but hinder the work flow in others. These are aspects of your collaboration that should be used less. Supporting questions to figure these aspects out are:

  • What are elements of our work that we should use less?
  • What slows down the work process?
  • What doesn’t help us get better? 
  • What makes our agile collaboration less efficient?
  • What activities are maybe necessary but should be reduced?

Starfish Retro Format: More 

The opposite of “Less” is “More”. These are elements that you’re already using, which are helpful and should therefore be implemented onto other areas of your work. To derive suggestions for you future collaboration the following questions can help you to inspire your fellow members: 

  • What works well?
  • What should be used more often?
  • What eases our working process?
  • What is helpful?
  • Which helpful elements are underused?
  • What would I like to do more often?

As you can see this agile retrospective technique covers a lot of elements of your daily work and helps to identify the main aspects. 

As a side note, one simple hack: you can jump into Echometer retrospective tool without login and have a look at their retrospective ideas for free. You can even do your online retros in there – it is a great tool, feel free to have a look:

How to design a Starfish Retro Format

Similarly to 4L Retrospectives and “Mad, Sad, Glad” Retro Formats the Starfish Retro Format should be carried out like this:

  1. First all team members can write down in silence on sticky notes what topics they want to discuss in each of the five categories. 
  2. These sticky notes are placed on a flipchart where a starfish is drawn on that contains the four categories.
  3. If you have lots of different sticky notes you can use dot-voting to choose the topics that you want to discuss. 
  4. Discuss the topics in the different categories. 

Small Starfish Retrospective

Since some of the categories of the starfish retrospective are pretty similar to each other, you can take it down a notch by only using three categories. Those are “More of”, “Less of” and “Keep doing”:

  • “More of” includes actions and findings of your last sprint that you not only want to proceed using but also want to utilize more intensively. 
  • “Less of” consists of the exact opposite. What are you already using but want to use less often?
  • “Keep doing” is the category that includes aspects that work well and should be used in the future. 

As you can see, the Small Starfish Retrospective covers the topics of the Starfish Retro Format in a more compact way. This is helpful if you have less time or not as many topics that need to be discussed. To gain detailed insight in your agile collaboration it is helpful to use all of the five categories since you’ll gain a more detailed view on the processes that are going on. 

In Summary: Starfish Retro Format

Starfish Retro Formats are an efficient agile retrospective technique which can help your team to gather detailed information on the events of your last sprint. 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 articles about 4L Retrospectives and the “Mad, Sad, Glad” Retro Format.

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