The Peaks and Valleys Timeline retrospective is one of the less popular exercises for retrospectives but also one of the most insightful ones if you want to see how your team feels about the last sprint. This format provides a visual language for participants to share individual views on the ups and downs of their last iteration of work. You can also encounter the Peaks and Valleys Timeline activity under the name Cliffs and Valleys or Emotional Seismograph.
The exercise will take you about an hour depending on team size and level of focus within the group. In order to facilitate this format effectively, you’ll need a whiteboard or canvas, and a few markers/pens in different colors for each of the participants. This is one of the rare occasions when you won’t use sticky notes during a retrospective.
Step 1: Start by drawing a horizontal x-axis and a vertical y-axis on the board. Use the horizontal line to visualize the duration of the sprint and mark the points when it started and ended, as well as the present moment. On the top of the vertical axis, draw a smiling face and a sad face at the bottom.
Step 2: Explain the instructions to your team. Ask them to draw a line that represents how they felt at the start of the sprint and then all the way to the current moment. Urge them to start at the beginning of the timeline, and keep their marker on the canvas the whole time as they draw the line that demonstrates how their mental state changed over the course of the iteration. They should be drawing the line and speaking at the same time, explaining the shifts they make in their line and which scenarios account for them. While someone is drawing, the rest of the team can ask questions or recall key events. This will keep everyone engaged. Repeat until every team member has drawn their Peaks and Valleys timeline.
Step 3: Once everyone has drawn their emotional timeline, analyze the result on the board as a group, identify common themes and highlight common peaks and valleys. This will give you a bird’s eye view of the sprint sentiment.
Step 4: Address the valleys and work together to agree on actions that will help avoid the reasons for the low points to occur again in future sprints.
At the end of this retrospective activity, the team should have greater insight into each other’s sprint journeys. It’s a great opportunity to grow empathy and understanding in the group.
This is a retrospective format to help you identify common highs and lows throughout the sprint and outline potential actions to minimize the lows in the future. It is an effective way for a large group to visualize and uncover events, their interconnections, and the emotional wellbeing of the team.
The Peaks and Valleys timeline will help you get participants to open up for further conversation. It’s a unique format that will bring variety into your retrospective routine, improve engagement levels and reveal new areas for improvement. Try it now, even with a distributed team, by using a remote retrospective tool, a digital whiteboard or a shared screen!