Retrospective 4L: an essential tool for team improvement

Among the many retrospective techniques in Agile project management, the 4L retrospective has its own place because of its ease of use and the effectiveness it shows. This method, pegged on four key areas of focus—Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For—provides a structured but flexible framework that enables teams to review their performance against goals and desired outcomes, or to pinpoint areas needing improvement and success stories.

Understanding the 4L Retrospective

A 4L retrospective is a structured meeting where team members reflect on their experiences regarding the project or sprint. The method focuses on four prompts:

Liked: What did team members enjoy or appreciate about the project? This could pertain to successful processes, productive meetings, or individual contributions that impacted positively.

Learned: What new knowledge or skills did the team acquire? This could include acquiring technical skills, knowing the project better, or knowing how to collaborate more effectively.

Lacked: What was missing or could have been better? Pinpointing what is missing or lacking helps the team understand what prevented it from moving forward and what resources or support were inadequate.

Longed For: What do team members wish they had during the project? This is the forward-looking part that focuses on aspirations and changes needed to make future projects better.

Implementing the 4L retrospective

Planning and facilitating the 4L retrospective with a team requires care to ensure that it effectively drives meaningful reflection and actionable insight. The first step in holding a 4L retrospective is to prepare the materials necessary for the meeting and set up a physical or virtual whiteboard with the four quadrants: Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For. Besides, the facilitator should communicate the aim of the retrospective and establish a supportive atmosphere where team members feel free to share their thoughts and experiences.

Once the stage is set, team members retire to reflect individually, with time and paper, on their feelings and observations for each quadrant. Encouraging participants to reflect independently enhances honesty and ensures that all views are captured. This is an opportunity for team members to reflect on their experiences in the course of the whole project or sprint and think of specific aspects they liked, learned, lacked, or would have wished for. After the individual

After a reflection period, the team reconvenes to share insights with each other and work on the development of a common understanding about the successes and areas of improvement for the project.

The facilitator guides the discussion during the retrospective to actually unpack the feedback by team members. Grouping similar points together helps in the detection of common themes and patterns and facilitates a much deeper investigation into the underlying problems. This is a collaborative conversation that encourages active listening, empathy, and constructive exchange of feedback among members. Rich in this kind of open and transparent communication, the team is able to come to valuable insights about the root causes of the problems it has faced and potential solutions for overcoming them. Lastly, the retrospective concludes with the team coming up with collective actions regarding what needs to be built on and improved. The assignment of responsibilities and setting timelines for the action items ensures accountability and facilitates follow-through. This lays the ground for continued improvement in future projects.

Importance of 4L Retrospectives for Teams

The importance of 4L retrospectives for teams cannot be overestimated when it comes to agile project management. These retrospectives serve as invaluable check-in points where teams get the opportunity to make sense of their past experience, learn from it, and identify areas of improvement while celebrating their successes. It gives valuable insights, driving improvement continuously through its culture of collaboration, when time is taken out to review what went well—Liked; what was learned, Learned; what was lacking, Lacked; and what they longed for, Longed For.
Firstly, 4L retrospectives enhance transparency and open communication among teams. By giving a structured framework for sharing feedback, team members are empowered to share their thoughts, worries, and ideas in a non-judgmental and secure environment. The trust formed between team members encourages constructive dialogue to improve problem-solving and decision-making processes.
Secondly, 4L retrospectives enhance learning and knowledge sharing. Through reflection on what they have learned in the project, team members can identify their areas of growth and development. The reinforcement of individual and collective learning experiences raises the value of continuous learning in a team. Moreover, through the sharing of their insights and experiences, team members encourage a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration, strengthening the team’s capacity and resilience.

4L retrospectives help teams identify and address process, resource, or support gaps. By being able to see what was lacking or could be done better, a team can proactively work towards addressing such issues and implementing corrective actions. This proactive problem-solving enables a team to better overcome its obstacles and become more equipped to deal with similar challenges in the future. Moreover, through discussion about what they long for or aspire to, teams can set goals and priorities for the future, thus guiding them for strategic planning and decision-making.

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