Plus-Minus-Delta Retrospective

Actionable retrospective ideas that you can launch today.

Spicing things up occasionally is a great way of keeping your retros productive and your team engaged. There are plenty of variations like the Sailboat, 4L’s, and WARP. However, if you prefer to keep your retros nice and simple, Plus - Minus - Delta might be just the thing for you.

It is an easy-to-apply retro format that you can set up right away without too much effort.

What is a Plus-Minus-Delta Retrospective

The Plus-Minus-Delta is a fun way of doing retros by looking at your work from the perspective of either something positive or something negative. The topics you discuss during a Plus, Minus, Delta retrospective are focused on weighting the positive experiences of your team versus the negative ones during your last Sprint.

The areas of conversation must fall under one of the following categories:

  • What went well
  • What didn’t go well
  • What needs change

Under “what went well”, be sure to include everything that had a positive impact on the Sprint, and the practices you want to encourage for the future. Good examples may include effective handling of dependencies, swiftly processing issues, etc.

What didn’t go well is somewhat of a frustration pool, where the team lists everything that slowed them down or prevented them from delivering the committed value during the Sprint. Such topics could include too many “under-the-table” requests that were not part of the Sprint, problems caused by technical debt, etc.

What needs to change is the most important topic bucket. There, you add problems with a lasting negative effect on the team that needs to be addressed ASAP like a slow reviewing process, lack of clear acceptance criteria, etc.

How to Run Plus-Minus-Delta Retrospectives with Your Team

Running a Plus-Minus-Delta retrospective is as easy as having a traditional retro with your team. When scheduling it, please stick to the golden rules for organizing a retrospective:

  1. Allocate a 60-90 minute time slot at a regular cadence on your team calendars
  2. Invite your team and aim for full attendance every time 
  3. Set the ground rules (e.g. no judgment, blame, or negativity) by highlighting any retrospective’s prime directive:
"Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand."
--Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review 

Start by visualizing the three categories for grouping topics during the retro. They will serve as hubs for adding notes that fall under each category. The typical visualization consists of three columns, drawn on a whiteboard.

For remote teams running their retros in ScatterSpoke, setting up a Plus, Minus retrospective is extremely easy and requires just a few clicks to select the pre-made template.

With the visualization in place, and the team gathered, address the following questions in regards to your last Sprint:

  • What are the positive things about this iteration?
  • What are the negative things about this iteration?
  • What we need to change for the next iteration?

Each person writes their answers on separate tickets and puts them under the category that suits them best. Pay attention to the topics that arise and tackle them during the following discussion.

If you are unable to reach an agreement on them, use voting for finding a mutual ground at the end. Assign everybody three voting points and ask them to vote for the problems with the largest negative impact (in their opinion). The items with the highest number of votes will become the focus of your improvement efforts for the next Sprint.

With the results of the vote present, define action items for fixing the biggest problems according to the team and conclude the meeting. To facilitate accountability, the Team Lead should specify a single owner to each action item and a deadline for processing it.

Why Should You Do Plus-Minus-Delta Retrospectives?

Plus-Minus-Delta retros provide your team with an easy escape from the traditional retrospective routine. They give you the opportunity to look at your work from a different perspective without straying too far from what your team understands.

By running Plus-Minus-Delta retros, you can analyze your work from a very simple angle - either positive or negative and quickly identify game-changers to improve your performance as a team.