What is a Four Ls retrospective?

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The 4Ls stands for Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For. Initially developed by Mary Gorman and Ellen Gottesdiener, it’s now a simple and popular technique for scrum masters and their team to highlight the positives (liked and learned), as well as the negative (lacked and longed for) from both a factual and emotional perspective. You can read the original blog post The 4Ls: A Retrospective Technique.
Four Ls Retrospective
Changing the way you run retrospectives from time to time can reveal new insights. The questions might be subtle but by moving away from the traditional agile retrospective and allowing people to be more engaged from a “heart and mind” perspective can switch up people’s thinking and open up new insights.

A breakdown of the 4Ls

If you listen out to what your team says at the water cooler, you’ll find that they tend say things like “if only we have…” or “I wish we had…”. On the flip side, they also say things like “Guess what I found out…” and “I really loved…”
The 4Ls retrospective is designed to get people to share those thoughts as part of being agile and with the aim of continuous improvement. It is based around the following key theme:
Liked – What did people like about the last sprint run? This could be anything from a process, an achievement, a particular team action or even a technology.
Learned – What things did the team learn from experiments, testing, conversation and from working with each other. These are any new discoveries, points of interest or highlights.
Lacked – What seemed to be missing from the last iteration? On reflection, this might be something that was unclear or needed to be implemented to ensure that things continue to run smoothly.
Longed for – What is something that they wish existed or was possible that would ensure that the project would be successful.

By asking these questions, it can help open up the team to sharing their thoughts, bring out new ideas and foster a sense of being heard.

How to run a 4Ls retrospective in TeamRetro

Start Agile Retrospective

Start your 4Ls retrospective with a click
Log into TeamRetro and choose the 4Ls Retrospective template.

Invite Your Team
Invite your team easily – no separate accounts needed
Send an email invite, a link or add to your slack channel to get people started quickly. SSO options are also available.
Agile Retrospective Brainstorm
Time to brainstorm
Ask each team member to add what they think under each of the four questions. This is best done independently. This process might be best done anonymously in order to help surface any issues which  might otherwise not come out.
They can indicate when they have finished, or you can set a timer so that you know when to move onto the next stage.
Grouping of ideas after brainstorming in a retrospective meeting
Group related ideas
Scan the ideas for common ground and have a quick discussion. Drag and drop  related ideas to combine them for easier voting. TeamRetro can also automatically suggest ideas that are similar, saving you and your team valuable time.
Grouping of ideas after brainstorming in a retrospective meeting
Vote for what matters most to people
Ask people to independently vote for what they would most like to discuss in the meeting, or items that they feel are the most important today. You might want to have 4 votes for example so that they select one under each topic, although this does not always have to be the case. Votes are tallied automatically for the Discuss stage.
Grouping of ideas after brainstorming in a retrospective meeting

Discuss the most important things first
You can now discuss the top voted ideas.   Presentation mode allows you to walk your team through ideas one-by-one and keep the conversation focused.

Grouping of ideas after brainstorming in a retrospective meeting

Review and create actions

Create action items based on discussions, assign owners and due dates that will carry through for review at the next retrospective.

Grouping of ideas after brainstorming in a retrospective meeting

Share the results
Once you have finished your retro, you can share the results and actions with the team. Your retro will be stored in history so you can revisit them as needed.

Congratulations! You’ve just run a retro like a boss.
Want more? Read on.

Ideas and tips for your 4L retrospectives

  • It might be subtle, but there is a difference between the Liked and Learned ideas. While the likes may have a more emotion based overtone and be based on feelings, the other is based on data, an actual result from an experiment or a new skill they learned.
  • There is also a difference between lacked and longed for. Lacked implies something that was a shortfall. So it may be something that is missing. Something longed for is more future oriented and it’s something that they wish that could exist going forward.
  • One way to quickly get a sense about the health and happiness of the team is on the number of ideas in each heading. There should be some ideas in each. If every body liked everything then it might be symptomatic of people not wanting to push themselves or are afraid of saying what they think. Similarly if all there only negatives, then the reverse is true.
  • Create a safe space by making the map anonymous if need be. However, it is generally recommended to make your 4L retrospective honest and open.
  • A thank you goes a long way. Give a shout out to the team at the end of the meeting.
  • Follow up with an action list that you will check off at the start of the next team retro.
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