How to Improve the Speedboat Retrospective

Added to Process

The speedboat retrospective is one of my favorite visualization techniques I use in retrospectives. The origin of this technique goes back to Luke Hohmann, who presented it as one of the innovation games in his book “Innovation Games”.

How to Improve the Speedboat Retrospective

The idea is to draw a speedboat on a flip chart and ask the team: “If our team is this speedboat, what anchors are holding us back and keeping us from getting faster/better?” Then the team collects all their ideas on Post-Its, puts them below the boat and draws a line from the boat to the anchor.

This is how such a speedboat could look:

The Speedboat (Schnellboot) Exercise

This is always a good starting point for taking the next steps in a retrospective, but the whole technique has one flaw: It only focusses on the negative.

In the last few years, I got more and more in contact with the solution-focused approach. It is a technique that focusses on the solutions (as the name already implies) instead of the problems. If you are working with a solution-focused coach, she will always try to help you focus on the positive things or turn negative comments into positive wishes. This definition is quite simplified, but you get the point.

If we apply solution-focused thinking to the speedboat exercise, the visualization would change into a sailboat and look like this:

How to improve the Speedboat Exercise

Now we not only have anchors holding us back, but wind that blows to move us forward. This gives us the possibility of turning each anchor into a gust of wind. You can use this sailboat now in two ways:

  1. Ask the team: “What are the gusts of wind that help our sailboat to move forward” and collect their ideas on Post-Its.
  2. Do this exercise in three steps:
    1. First collect all the anchors, as it’s easier for most teams to collect their current problems.
    2. Ask the team to turn each anchor into goals, desires or wishes and put them before the cloud to represent the gusts of wind pushing the boat forward.
    3. Use these “winds” to define a desirable goal that you will use as true north for the rest of the retrospective.

There is even a third alternative, where you only focus on the winds and ignore the anchors. I really like this approach, as it helps the team to focus on the good things and also gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Most teams have something positive to talk about that helps them to understand that there are already things that work fine. And it’s definitely worth the time, to help the team to build on this base.

What do you think about this technique? Do you like it? If you try it, I’d like to read about it in the comments, too.


Marc Loffler

Marc Loeffler works as an Agile coach and trainer in Germany. Before getting in touch with agile methods and principles in 2006, he was working as a traditional project manager for companies like the Volkswagen AG and Siemens AG. His passion is to help teams implementing agile frameworks like Scrum and XP and to transform our world of work. Marc has a passion for helping teams that are struggling with agile transitions and overcoming dysfunctional behavior. He loves to generate new insights by approaching common problems from the other side and trying to deliberately make havoc of the process.

 

About the Author

Marc Loeffler is a keynote speaker, author, and agile coach. Before getting in touch with agile methods and principles in 2006, he was working as a traditional project manager for companies like the Volkswagen AG or the Siemens AG. His passion is to help teams implementing agile frameworks like Scrum and XP and to transform our world of work. Marc has a passion for helping teams that are struggling with agile transitions and overcoming dysfunctional behavior. He loves to generate new insights by approaching common problems from the other side and trying to make deliberately havoc of the process.


This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.


  • Erik

    I see many slightly different approaches to this technique, and decided to use this in my next retrospective. It looks like fun, and invites and challenges the team members to participate, instead of having a monologue each retro.

    But if there is a lot going on, there might be many anchors (or many opportunities). To get more focus on things, I will give each team member three points, which they can devide over the Anchors or Opportunities (or maybe three points for Anchors and Three for opportunities, will decide after everyone has put up there sticky notes).

    They can devide these points as they wish, even three on one item is allowed. After that, we can take the one or two most “feared” Anchors, and one or two most favoured Opportunities to evaluate and possibly to transform them into actions in our upcoming sprints.

    Already looking forward to this meeting 😉