The Hot Air Balloon Retro is a simple activity to help an Agile team identify what allowed them move faster and what slowed them down over the course of their last working sprint together through the lens of a hot air balloon ride. During the retrospective, participants focus on three key aspects of the metaphor and participate in a brainstorm focusing around people, product, relationships, process, and tools. This is a retro activity for data collection and can act as an alternative to keep the team engaged with collating ideas by varying the format.
To run this template, you need to gather the appropriate retrospective materials: white board (or canvas), sticky notes, pens, and (of course) a positive attitude. This format is easy to illustrate for the person facilitating and usually takes less than an hour, which can be a more light-weight retro experience for a mature team that has already optimized their process to an extent.
Begin the meeting by drawing the hot air balloon with sand bags hanging below board to represent anchors. Then, explain to the participants what each element of the illustration represents and distribute the post-its among team members. Ask participants to document their ideas on post-it notes and place them in the two areas available in the illustration: fire or hot air at the heart of the balloon and the forces pulling down, in the form of sand bags. The introduction to the template should take no more than 5 minutes.
Fire and hot air: Add notes that answer the questions -- "What helps you go higher?" and "What are the things that push the team forward?"
Weights (obstacles) that pull down: In this part of the board, add notes answering questions like -- "Which are the forces pulling us down?" and "What impedes us to achieve more?"
Each participant should use a post-it per idea and, in this way, can contribute several post-its to each of the two areas of the canvas that are available to them. Give the team 10 minutes to consider and write down their ideas. When everyone has placed their notes in the corresponding area, group the similar topics into clusters and discuss the results. Time-box the discussion to no more than 20 minutes, so that the group is encouraged to be efficient with their time, seeding out action items from their comments.
The final step is to wrap up the retrospective and outline the actions that will help you reduce the forces pulling the team down in the next sprint and lift your balloon even higher. Dedicate the last 5 to 10 minutes of the retro to this part of the activity.
This retrospective is one of the less popular exercises but that is what makes it a rare gem that can affect both new and mature Agile teams positively. The Hot Air Balloon retro is an original way to help you identify blockers and inefficiencies as well as strengths and best practices. A Scrum Master will appreciate this activity as an interesting way to keep the team engaged and spice up the regular meeting formats. It can also come in handy when you don’t have a full hour for the retro or you feel like the team members is starting to experience meeting fatigue.
You can also run this retrospective template with a remote team by using an online retro tool, a virtual whiteboard or screenshare with a drawing board.