This idea is from my colleague Juhani Snellman.
Exercise starts with the team building a timeline for the chosen time period. It could be the time span of a project, time from previous retro to today, or something else that is right now meaningful.
People are first given time to think alone, and write post-it notes for all meaningful events that they can come up with that had an impact on the project. I usually divide the time line so that on the top are the events that had positive impact, at the bottom the events that had a negative impact.
After first phase, time line could look something like this.
Now follows the new twist. I will say:
“Let’s imagine we have a time machine in use, and we could do the project again. What we would do differently this time? What we would definitely do again? Mark these things with different color post-its on the same time line.”
I run this the same way as the first phase – first some time alone writing notes, then bringing them to board. If there are lot of people, I use me-we-us type of technique in between.
After second phase, board should look something like this:
In these green notes, there will basically be a ready list of improvement areas and/or things to do next time around in similar project or situation. You can continue going to more details or action planning from here from some other technique, probe people to commit to some actions based on the notes right away if there’s already energy towards that, or possibly just list these down for next kickoff if that’s practical for you.
I have used this three times now, and every time results have been excellent. The first phase refreshes the whole project in peoples mind, and using the time machine thinking is a really effective way to get people to point out places where they actually think something could be improved.