WARP Retrospective

Actionable retrospective ideas that you can launch today.

Without a proper guiding structure in place, a retrospective has a high chance of getting derailed into the abyss of redundancy, or worse yet, actually hurting the team. 

How can something so positive spiral into negativity, you ask? Easy. Blame human nature. 

Even teams with the best intentions might sometimes feel challenged by the idea of “airing out their dirty laundry” and taking accountability for what went right as well as what went wrong during the spring equally. 

Faced with the choice between claiming collective responsibility for a process pitfall or diverting blame away from ourselves to someone else, human nature often tempts us to lean in the direction of the latter. 

That is when putting a positive spin on the format through which we share feedback with each other becomes essential. 

Enter the WARP retrospective.

The secret weapon for teams who, despite their best efforts, have a tendency to succumb to the unproductive practice of the blame game instead of generating actionable takeaways.

What is a WARP Retrospective?

To help teams avoid the unproductive slump of boring retrospectives that focus on blame rather than solutions, belgian Scrum Master and analyst, Nick Oostvogel developed the WARP (or WRAP) matrix

The quadrant format invites discussion from the team in four key areas to encourage them to keep an explorer’s eye out for new solutions, rather than stay down in the weeds of where the sprint might have been challenged. 

The four quadrants of the WARP matrix focus on Wishes, Appreciation, Risks and Puzzles. With this approach, the team avoids language chock full of negativity like “failure”, “pitfall” and “wrong” to carve out more space for “congratulations”, “hopefulness”, and “exploration”. 

Wishes in the WARP retrospective format, represented by the star, encourage the team to congregate around the vision for an ideal project or ideal process. Common entries into this category might include:

  • I wish our stakeholders would review our work the moment we’re ready to show it.
  • I wish we never got ad hoc requests and could just focus on the plan.
  • I wish I wasn’t sick this week, so I could have contributed to the project more.

Appreciations in the WARP retrospective format, represented by a smiley face invite the team to identify what they liked in the previous iteration. Phrased as appreciation, this category is often filled with appreciation for people and their contributions like:

  • I appreciated Max’s help with this task, because I was doing it for the first time.
  • I appreciated learning more about this programming language from Stephanie. 
  • I appreciated how we kept each other accountable for incoming work. 

Risks in the WARP retrospective, represented by the bomb, represent future pitfalls that can endanger the success of the team’s project. Risks listed in this category don’t tend to be specific to team members. They almost always center on the team as a collective, as they should:

  • The serve environment won’t be able to support more than the current traffic.
  • Without 2FA down the line, we won’t be able to attract enterprise clients.
  • The pandemic will make one of our features irrelevant. 

Puzzles in the WARP retrospective format, represented by a question mark, are remaining questions for which the team still has no answers. They act both as a parking lot for future retrospective topics as well as an invitation to consider possible answers in the interim. 

  • Will we get a new member of the QA team in the spring to help with testing?
  • How many of the features need to be ready before we launch?
  • Is this the best coding language to be using for a product like this?

How to Run a WARP Retrospective with Your Team

In preparation for a WARP retro, whether it is in-person or virtual, Scrum Masters or Team Leads must start out by easing existing tensions within the team (if any) by launching the retro with a brief, fun ice breaker that asks contributors to step outside of their comfort zone. 

The WARP retro asks that team members don’t shy away from including far-fetched or extraordinary ideas, especially in the Wishes and Puzzles categories. Getting into this frame of mind before launching into ideation with the team is essential for success. 

If you’re hosting a WARP retro in person, create a system for categorizing the team’s thoughts by building a physical board to reflect each of the four quadrants and providing sticky notes and Sharpies for the team to use in order to populate them. 

If you’re hosting your retro virtually -- it’s even easier! Create an online board and share an editable link with your group.

Hot tip: Apart from the essentials, give your team the tools to upvote ideas as they get added to each of the categories in the WARP format. This can be extremely helpful in capturing those initial first impressions and excitement from the team. For example, an appreciation around a team members’ contribution is raised and more than one person wants to emphasize it. With emojis or dot votes, the team can offer a collective appreciation by joining in on the same idea. 

Allow at least half of the time allocated for the retro for the team to add their ideas to each category. There is no limit to how many ideas an individual contributor might add to the template, but ALL team mates are expected to submit at least one related to each area. 

Unlike other retro formats, the WARP template does not require the team to stay grounded in their suggestions. Categories such as Wishes and Puzzles tend to generate wacky and out-of-this-world ideas that transform into innovative practices or solutions when applied within the team. 

Think outside the box during ideation, but translate into actionable takeaways in the next step of this creative retrospective process. 

Focus the conversation around the more significant clusters that have formed in each category. If you have time left over, discuss the outliers and ask their owners to go into more detail about their unique idea. 

Source potential action items from the group related to each cluster and note them separately, but in a visible place. 

Ask for volunteers to take ownership of no more than one action item from the newly created list. If you see the same people volunteer for action items after each retro, encourage more varied participation for greater diversity.

Try the WARP Format Today

Running your next WARP (or WRAP) retrospective online? In ScatterSpoke, you can create a WARP board in three clicks and share it with your team at any stage of your iteration. 

Use the board to submit feedback for each category anonymously to encourage better engagement and source strange, innovative ideas from the group, instead of circling around unproductive discussion with a negative edge. 

It’s all ready for you out of the box, so your distributed team can hit the ground running, jotting down all their great ideas as they discover the stars, smiley faces, ticking bombs and puzzles of their team’s last iteration of work.