4Ls Retrospective

A team activity to understand what was liked, learned, lacked, and longed for at the completion of a sprint or project.
Contributed by

Sherri Scheurich

Published October 08, 2021
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What Is 4Ls Retrospective?

What is the 4Ls Retrospective?

The 4 Ls retrospective is a team activity upon completion of a sprint or project designed to understand what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved. The 4Ls stand for liked, learned, lacked, and longed for.

Why Do 4Ls Retrospective?

After a sprint/project, it can be helpful for the team to pause and take stock of what happened. The 4Ls retrospective is a useful tool that empowers the team to highlight the positive elements of a sprint/project and understand the negative, allowing them to think from a factual rather than emotional perspective.

How to do 4Ls Retrospective?

At the end of each sprint/project, the team will provide input on what they liked, learned, lacked and longed for across key workstreams.

The targeted outcome will be a prioritized list of actionable improvements with assigned owners on focus areas designed to build trust, improve efficiency, and increase engagement as we plan for the next sprint.

Sample Agenda

  • Introduction

    • Kickoff 4Ls definition, workshop logistics, target outcomes
  • Collection

    • Time boxed activity for participants to document in a digital collaboration tool (i.e. Miro) what was liked, learned, lacked and longed for in the last sprint/project phase
  • Categorization

    • Summarize & group lessons into themes
  • Prioritization

    • Time boxed activity for participants to vote on top lessons to action
  • Next Steps

    • Assign owners to recommend future improvements for prioritized lessons. Regroup to share findings, align with account team & leadership, plan and implement in next sprint

Workshop Logistics

Google Meet:

  • Plan for 60 minutes
  • Introduction - 5 minutes
  • Collection - 15-20 minutes
  • Categorization - 10 minutes
  • Prioritization - 10 minutes
  • Next Steps - 10 minutes

Please use camera, chat and feel free to use the hand raise feature.

Miro Board:

Participants access a digital collaboration tool, such as a Miro board.

The board is divided into four quadrants to represent Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For. The quantity of quandrants may be adjusted to reflect workstreams as needed by editing the collaboration board (i.e. Miro).

Participants use “sticky notes” to post what was Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For during the collection segment.

Team to collaborate and align on categorization of “themes” (i.e. Planning, Technical, Leadership, Communication, etc..)

Participants use “voting buttons” to select top actionable improvements during the prioritization segment.

Facilitating the 4Ls Retrospective

Set the tone and expectations

Before starting the retrospective, make sure all participants understand its purpose. If the sprint/project being reflected on was stressful, consider addressing this openly and honestly before starting the retrospective. It is ultimately the facilitators job to set the tone and expectations for the activity, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The most successful retrospectives are completed when the team is fully bought into its importance and value, so the facilitator must take extra care to ensure this has happened before starting.

Determine what was liked about the sprint/project

The first item in the 4 Ls retrospective is intended to uncover what people liked about the sprint/project. This is intentionally broad and open ended. It’s up to the facilitator to guide participants into more and more useful insights into what they liked, and why they liked it. The goal is to uncover the underlying reasons for why a particular thing was liked, in order to ensure it happens again during the next sprint/project.

Determine what was learned

The most valuable lessons are often learned from mistakes made, or challenges overcome during the completion of actual work. Unfortunately, these lessons often go unshared with the team. This element of the retrospective asks participants to reflect on and share anything they might have learned.

It’s important for the facilitator to ensure the team understands no learning is too small to share, as well as to guide people into uncovering more learnings than they might have realized.

Uncover what was lacked

This step is designed to surface everything that held the team back during the sprint/project. This can be something as simple as slow communication with an outside team, or something more complicated that requires extra analysis to uncover. The purpose of documenting what was lacked during a sprint/project is to make sure you don’t run into the same problem in future sprints/projects.

It’s common for participants to feel uncomfortable sharing what was lacking if they feel leadership doesn’t want to hear about it. This might be because they believe the solution is too expensive or time consuming to be worth investing in. Either way, it’s again up to the facilitator to ensure the team feels comfortable sharing as much as possible during this step.

Document what was longed for

The last element of the 4 Ls retrospective involves reflecting on what was longed for. This can be something tangible like better equipment, or something less tangible, like more or less involvement from leadership.

Be careful that the ‘Longed for’ section isn’t simply a mirror of the what was lacked section. It will often be similar, but it gives you the opportunity to determine and prioritize what is needed based on the positive impact it may have. For example, if ‘faster computers’ was listed in the ‘Lacked’ section, ‘fast computers’ isn’t necessarily the only thing to add in this step. You might consider including ‘faster internet’ or ‘better software’ as other things that would solve for what was lacked.

5 tips to a successful 4Ls retrospective

  1. Give people space and time to reflect. 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted time to take stock of their thoughts.
  2. Ask everyone to turn off their devices so they can focus on the retrospective. If distracted by phones or laptops, it will be harder to reflect.
  3. Assure everyone that there are no right or wrong answers. It’s not a test! If people feel like they are unable to give honest feedback on what worked and what didn’t, the retrospective won’t uncover valuable insights.
  4. Encourage team to focus on action, not emotion. The goal is to collect objective feedback and reflection. If sprint was a stressful one, consider a symbolic debrief activity to ease tension and lighten the mood before holding your retrospective. (Deep breath, pat on back)
  5. Use the 4Ls retrospective to bring remote teams together after a difficult sprint to collaborate without constraints. Remote teams often feel isolated, and the lack of a formal debrief and reflection can harm morale. Hosting an online retrospective not only brings teams closer, but gives an opportunity to discover what was challenging or stressful to ensure the next sprint runs smoother.

Assign followups and action items

This is perhaps the most important step in the retrospective process. If you don’t take the time to assign followup action items to specific people or teams, you won’t gain much from having completed the process.

Before ending the retrospective, ask for volunteers to own next steps. For any followup that doesn’t have a volunteer, assign it to the person most responsible for uncovering the insight during the retrospective. Close the session out by confirming everyone understand what is expected of them moving forward, and thank them for their time.

Links we love

Check out these great links which can help you dive a little deeper into running the 4Ls Retrospective practice with your team, customers or stakeholders.

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