Pleasure and Gain Retrospective

Actionable retrospective ideas that you can launch today.

The Pleasure and Gain retrospective format is a great way to start the conversation about topics like team dynamics, dips in productivity, new additions to the team and other team-level circumstances to determine how they are affecting each team member. The exercise focuses on whether these events or situations have been pleasant or not, and what the team may or may not have gained from them.

Getting Started with the Pleasure and Gain Retro

The Pleasure and Gain retrospective format is a fun and quick way to spice up your regular retro meetings. It’s also a useful technique to identify the circumstances inside the team that straddle the line between valuable and pleasurable, so that more of these can be generated to improve productivity and emotional wellness of your team members.

As for most retro formats, you will need a whiteboard, pens, sticky notes, and a positive attitude. Start the meeting by drawing the pleasure and gain spectrum (as in the picture below) where the pleasure and gain axis crosses with the pain and loss axis. This spectrum asks the team to consider the experiences of the last sprint in terms of pain and gain.

Ask participants to add post-it notes with topics to varying areas of the board, where they believe they belong. If the team is particularly quiet, use leading questions or statements such as:

  • Consider situation X during the last sprint.
  • Did you feel pleasure or pain doing this?
  • Did we generate any gains during this process?
  • Were the pains worth the gains?

Discuss the magic quadrant (or also called the pleasure and gain quadrant) with your team. Which activities, topics or events over the course of the last sprint belong in the top right area where the items are both pleasant to do and bring value.

Bring up the Big Pain intersection, within which topics were painful to execute and also led to a loss for the team. Which post-its belong there?

When all the participants have placed their notes on the board in the corresponding area, discuss what could be done to move each item closer or into the magic quadrant. Then turn these ideas into actionable tasks for your next sprint.

Benefits of the Pleasure and Gain Retrospective

This activity is based on the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Loss Aversion Theory. His findings indicate that the pain of losing is psychologically almost two times as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. Thus it fosters important conversations on how we can improve efficiency and be happier at the same time by reducing the number of inefficient activities that conjure pain. 

Moreover, this retrospective template is a direct path to discovering how we can actually gain knowledge while doing something painful. It will give your team greater clarity around activities that didn't seem too pleasant, but led to vital gains for the team. This will help the group view negative experiences inside the team as an investment in their own future.

The exercise is as effective for co-located teams as it is for remote teams with a virtual board and a shared screen or a digital retrospective tool like ScatterSpoke.