Always improve your next project by running a 4Ls Retrospective

Always improve your next project by running a 4Ls Retrospective

This may start to sound a bit like Sesame Street, but lots of English’s best words start with the letter L: love, laughter, language, life, light, and the list definitely doesn’t stop there.

When it comes to evaluating your team’s last sprint or project, we’ve got another great list of L words for you: liked, learned, lacked, and longed for. When given time to properly think through and plan out each one, the process is known as the 4Ls Retrospective.

You don’t need any advanced knowledge or fancy tools to conduct this one, except maybe Cacoo’s 4L’s Retrospective template to get started.

Now that we have that pulled up — let’s go!

The five steps

Although it’s called the 4Ls Retrospective, it’s fair to say that there are actually five steps to successfully completing the process.

  1. Prepare your team
  2. Liked
  3. Learned
  4. Lacked
  5. Longed for

While a lot of the process may seem pretty self-explanatory, we’ll help you figure out exactly the types of questions to keep in mind and how to successfully guide the retrospective to get the most out of your meeting. Let’s get started!

Preparing your team

Make sure your team knows at least a day in advance that you’re planning on holding a 4Ls Retrospective meeting. Send out some written directions (maybe even this blog) along with the template you’re going to use so they really understand what the process will be like.

Each team member should either fill out a few stickies under each category in the template or jot down some notes and ideas for each category before coming to the group brainstorm. Every member should think through the entire process that they just completed and thoroughly examine every step — both steps they were involved in and maybe some that they weren’t but whose outcome might have affected them.

This will help facilitate good discussion and waste less time on thinking and ideating during the actual meeting. Plus, it’s possible one team member’s idea will spark something that another team member hadn’t remembered to include on their list.

Liked

Once you’ve converged your meeting, whether it’s virtually in Cacoo using real-time group editing or in-person, give everyone a quick walkthrough of how the retrospective will go.

Start with the ‘Liked’ category. This should be an easy place to start and should not require much extra confidence to share your thoughts.

You should be answering questions like:

  • What went well?”
  • What part of the process should never change?”
  • What’s something that happened as part of the project that made you happy or proud?”

Go around to every team member, giving each an opportunity to share everything on their lists of what they thought went well and what needs to change for the next project or iteration. Hopefully, many team members have repeat items on their list. Instead of cluttering up the diagram, just group them together or place that sticky higher up to show how ubiquitous the opinion was.

Moving forward, you should have a list of things you won’t be changing at all. After you have that, you can move on to the slightly more complicated ‘Learned.’

Learned

Still staying on the more positive note, the “Learned” category covers new knowledge gained through the latest iteration. That could include learning a new software, learning something new about your target demographic, learning that Jim from accounting can only process invoices on Fridays, or anything and everything in between.

Team members should be asking themselves questions like:

  • What did I not know at the beginning of this project that I know now?”
  • What is something we experimented with on this project?”
  • What’s helpful knowledge I could share with the rest of the team that will help in the next iteration?”

After every team member has had the opportunity to share everything for this section they had brainstormed and were given enough time to elaborate on the learnings so the whole team now understands, you can move on.

Lacked

This is where your team might start to get a bit more hesitant to share their answers, depending on the relationship you’ve fostered together. The team may be somewhat reluctant to share criticism of the team or resources available. If this is the case, you could always make this section anonymous and allow everyone to fill out sticky notes with no names attached and have a discussion about them afterward.

To add items to this section, team members should be asking themselves questions like:

  • What needed to happen that didn’t happen?”
  • Was part of the project too difficult or even impossible due to our current resources?”
  • Was part of the project frustrating or did something that made you sad? Why?”

This step is a bit different from the past two. After you’ve had the opportunity to go around and share everyone’s pain points, whether openly or anonymously, you will then add a follow-up to discuss ways that these issues can be fixed for the next iteration. There’s no point in a retrospective if you’re not going to use the knowledge you’ve gained to smooth out your workflow.

As part of this conversation, you might even assign a specific team member to research and follow-up on each issue. Make sure you choose someone with the knowledge to match that issue and who holds a stake in getting that issue solved. This will make sure that the issues you’ve spent all this time to bring attention to aren’t going to be forgotten or allowed to fall by the wayside once the next project is underway.

Once you’ve exhausted this conversation, you can move on to the next step.

Longed for

The ‘Longed for’ category actually has a lot in common with the preceding step. The main difference between the two is that the previous step focused on what was missing while this step focuses on what can be added to improve the workflow.

While slightly less sensitive than the last topic, you can again give team members the option of carrying out this step anonymously.

Questions team members can ask themselves include:

  • What do I wish I’d had to get the project done?”
  • Is there something tangible or intangible that could be added to the process to make my job go more smoothly?”
  • What are some ways to solve my problems from ‘lacked’ by adding more or new resources?”

While you may have been able to solve some of your issues in the “Lacked” section without directly adding a new resource, this is the section where you can really start brainstorming on what additions might help. That could be adding an extra team member, one team member being allowed to take an online program to learn an important skill, having different software, adding one more week to the project timeline, etc. The sky is the limit — just make sure this conversation includes a discussion about what additions are actually feasible given the budget and other restrictions the team may be facing.

Assign a team member to follow-up on the issues and opportunities voiced in this step. Maybe that team member is you as the project manager, or maybe another team member could find a low-budget way of accessing a new technology that could help. You never know what options are truly out there until you take the time to look!

Make sure you’ve thoroughly documented each step of this retrospective including the sticky notes and the discussions you’ve had as a team. After the retrospective is over, send out these notes as soon as possible along with a plan of action detailing (as much as you can) how you’re going to be incorporating your new findings into projects moving forward. Your next project should already go a bit smoother if you’ve properly implemented your discoveries from this meeting.

Final thoughts

While the 4Ls Retrospective is great and helps a lot of teams, it’s not your only option. If for some reason this retrospective isn’t the right fit for you and your team or our processes, never fear!

Cacoo offers a whole host of retrospective templates and posts detailing how to conduct a number of different retrospective meetings. Take a look through options including “Keep Problem Try” or “Start Stop Continue” or “Mad Glad Sad” or “Starfish Retrospective.” Each one offers a slightly different take on looking back at your projects. With so many options, if 4Ls isn’t the right match for you, you’ll be sure to find one that is.

Give the 4Ls Retrospective a try for your next meeting and see how much it helps your team run through your next iteration!

Lauren Grabau Lauren Grabau is a globetrotting copywriter providing SEO web content, puns, and a keen eye for spelling wherever she can. She's probably currently planning her next trip or lost on a long walk.