Wish and Wonder Retrospective

Actionable retrospective ideas that you can launch today.

There is one retro format that takes inspiration from fairy tales about magic genies that have the powers to grant your heart’s desires. 

Yes, we’re talking about the wish & wonder retrospective format. 

Built for dreamers, developed by dreamers, it works exceedingly well for creatives, designers, game developers and other functions that are used to thinking outside the box. 

If your team is engaged in this retrospective template, there is a high chance that they will successfully surface themes from the last iteration that stood out to them and generate next steps to either expand on those themes or alleviate their negative impact during the upcoming iteration.

What is a Wish & Wonder Retrospective?

Adapted from the “I Like, I Wish, How to” process, originally described in resources from the Stanford Design School, the “I Like, I Wish, I Wonder” retrospective template is a quick way to get constructive feedback from your core team. 

This format can be leveraged by working groups as small as two and as large as 100 members and is a relatively safe and comfortable entry point into hosting retrospectives with your team. These are just two of the reasons that the wish and wonder retrospective format has made it into the toolboxes of new Agile teams as well as more mature, scaled Agile implementations. 

To break out of the standard survey model and gather quick feedback to determine where the patterns in the group are, this template leverages four key quadrants (or columns) to categorize information front he team: 

I Like focuses on aspects of the last iteration that stood out to you based on their positive impact and can feature any of the following: 

  • I LIKE that we successfully met our sprint commitment despite significant delays.
  • I LIKE that we didn’t have technical dept or maintenance work to steer us away from strategic priorities during this last iteration.
  • I LIKE that we are becoming more consistent in updating our cards on the Kanban.

I Wish asks the team to identify any changes they might make to events that transpired in the past iteration. This may include include:

  • I Wish we didn’t need to rely on our Scrum Master to solve our team's impediments as much as we did in the last iteration.
  • I Wish we could work in 3 week sprints instead of 2 week sprints, so don’t feel the pressure of trying to fit our testing into a 2 week iteration.
  • I Wish we could have another resource that was skilled in using Drupal, so we can eliminate a bottleneck in our process.

I Wonder urges the team to dig deeper in a direction that has piqued their interest during the last iteration. Moments of wonder might arise from positive or negative situations equally as can represent hidden risks that a team member might explore, or untapped opportunities that require greater attention. Wonderings might include:

  • I Wonder whether there is a way to automate the manual process that stalled us in this iteration.
  • I Wonder whether there might be a need to test the code through one more scenario based on the most recent bug report.
  • I Wonder whether we might need to break the daily standup into two groups to keep it relevant and manageable. 

(Optional) What’s Next is a fourth, additional quadrant of the Wish & Wonder retrospective format that not all teams feel like they need to include.It captures actions individual contributors plan to take based on the information they have collected from the previous iteration. Capturing takeaways in the fourth quadrant can be beneficial in defining the action items that team members will be accountable for during the next period of active work and might include:

  • Team Member X will explore opportunities to automate the manual process.
  • Team Member Y will send new calendar invites for the separate standups.
  • Team Member Z will define ways to cross-train others on the team in Drupal.

How to Run a Wish & Wonder Retrospective with Your Team

In preparation for a Wish & Wonder retrospective, whether it is in-person or virtual, Scrum Masters or Team Leads must prepare with a theme in advance if they are hoping to facilitate a productive problem-solving session for a larger group using the template.

If the team is relatively small, 2-15 people, facilitators can keep the conversation open and allow contributors to populate each of the 4 categories with a wide variety of suggestions.

However, in order to keep the conversation manageable for a team of 15+ people, facilitators are encouraged to select an important, but broad, theme from the iteration and focus the teams’ brainstorming efforts in this direction (ex. on the most recent prototype, on our team’s communication, on our strategic alignment).

Use a whiteboard to build the four-column format and distribute sticky notes and marketers to all participants. To keep the information organized, use four different colours for each of the contributions to the categories OR ask team members to label each post-it with “I Wish, I Wonder, I Like” before adding it to the board. 

Keep the What’s Next column free for now. As action items surface during the discussion phase, gradually add the What’s Next area and add owners who can be accountable for each action during the next iteration.

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: If you’re a large, co-located group, break the group out into tables, to encourage more focused discussions in smaller groupings before opening up the retro to discuss everyone’s ideas. If you’re a large, remote group, use Zoom breakout rooms or similar to keep conversations separate before bringing it all together in the main session for a consolidation of ideas.

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. 

Close the brainstorming session by creating greater clarity around the items on the board. Invite each participant in the retro to speak their feedback in front of the group for about 1 min each. If your group is too large, ask representatives from each table or breakout room to share their ideas on behalf of their group.

During this process of sharing, no conversation, additional contextualization or argument from the rest of the group is allowed. This has the potential to derail the conversation and is not recommended. 

Open discussion follows shortly after. This is a good opportunity to synthesize the feedback and source additional opinions about what was presented during the clarification of the products of the group’s brainstorm.

Facilitators should source potential action items from the group related to each category of the board and note them separately in the What’s Next column of the retro template.

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 Wish & Wonder Format Today

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

You can even use the board to submit feedback for each category anonymously and, in effect, encourage better engagement as well as more constructive pieces of feedback. 

It’s all ready for you out of the box, so your distributed team can hit the ground running, making note of what you liked, wished for and wondered about from your team’s last iteration of active work.