How to Run an Agile Harry Potter Retrospective

Hero's Journey Board

For anyone working in Agile teams, retrospectives should be, after stand-ups, the ceremony one should be most familiar with. And if you’re running them regularly, you know that they can get quite monotonous. My team has been using the “What went well”, “What didn’t go well”, “What can be improved” and the Lean Coffee formats for many months and we figured we could do with a bit of a change. To remedy this, and since I am a massive fan, I decided to volunteer and facilitate a Harry Potter retrospective.

Note: This article assumes you are familiar with running Agile Retrospectives. If you’d rather find out more about what a retrospective is and how to facilitate a retrospective I recommend the 5 Things You Need To Know To Facilitate A Retrospective article.

Many thanks to Minno and other ThoughtWorkers for helping shape some of these activities.

Harry Potter Retrospective Overview

To make things easier and quicker, I recommend having most of the materials ready ahead of time. To set the wizardly world mood, you can choose to put music on (keep in mind that not everyone may be familiar with HP world, so I recommend Hedwig’s Theme). As for the energiser you will need a room with some empty space. See all requirements and materials at the bottom.

1. As participants arrive into the room, hand them the index cards on which you already sticked the smaller Happiness, Safety and One Magical Word stickies (marked for easier identification).

2. Start the retrospective by reading the Prime Directive to ensure everyone is familiar with it. Because we are an established team and very familiar with the original one, I took the liberty to modify it and make it more “magical”.
Duration: ~1 minute

3. Run the Happiness and Safety checks as well as the One (Magical) Word activity to get a sense of everyone’s mood and understand the safety levels of the participants. I prefer to run the Happiness check with the same scale as the Safety check (1 being the worst, 5 being the best). Consider the implications of someone not feeling safe in the room and that you might have to give up on the theme retro and instead focus on Creating Safety.
Tip: Explain and use the One Magical Word activity to make your team aware of each other’s feelings or attitudes. I asked mine to use words from the world of Harry Potter to make it funnier.
Duration: ~3 minutes

4. Using the Sorting Hat activity, assign everyone into one of the 4 Hogwarts houses. Next, ask participants to form a circle by ensuring they don’t sit next to someone who is in the same house as theirs.
Duration: 1 minute

5. Explain the Magical Duel energiser rules and do a trial run. I recommend starting with the first three rules to get everyone accustomed and then introducing the final rule. Finally, run the energiser for good and declare the winning person’s house the winning house!
Tip: Take your time explaining the rules and ensure everyone understands them.
Duration: ~10 minutes

Index cards for the Hero's Journey activity
Hero’s Journey Index Cards including the Messenger addition

6. Explain and run the modified Hero’s Journey activity. Ask everyone to get involved and contribute with post-it notes, then group them by topics. Run a filtering activity like dot voting to decide the priority of topics to be discussed.
Tip: To keep this activity in line with the theme, ask everyone to swap dots for a lightning symbol ⚡, but if you think this is confusing stick with dot voting or tallies).
Duration: 10-15 minutes

7. Discuss the top most voted topics, given the time you’ve got left. Aim to discuss at least 3 topics and take actions if appropriate or needed.
Duration: 15-20 minutes

8. Finally, explain the Owl to Self check-out activity by asking participants to write down a thought, an action or something they want to keep an eye on for the next iteration or until the next retro.

At the end of the retro, thank everyone for participation. Optionally, I recommend to invite the participants to provide you with feedback on how they found the retrospective! This should help you understand if a similar themed retro can be repeated.

Materials and Props for the Harry Potter retrospective

Like any retrospective you’ll need lots of post-it notes and sharpies or pens for people to write on. However, since this is a themed retro, I decided to spice things up a bit so I am including the materials and props list I went with when I ran this activity.

Hogwarts emblems, modified prime directive and other materials for the Harry Potter retrospective
Some of my props for index cards and the “Owl To Self” checkout activity

Required

  • Same colour post-it notes and sharpies (or pens)
  • 4 Index cards with Hero’s Journey drawings (or just draw/print them)
  • An open space room that is big enough for the whole team

Optional

  • Additional “Messenger” Index card or drawing for the modified Hero’s Journey Activity
  • Differently coloured post-its for Happiness, Safety and One Magical Word activities
  • Enough Owl To Self index cards for all participants (or more post-it notes)
  • Enough House Emblems for all participants (for Sorting Hat activity)
Chocolate Frogs and Jelly Beans snack for a Harry Potter retrospective
Freddos Chocolate Frogs and Jelly Beans (bought from Sainsburys)

Snacks and Props (really optional)

  • Jelly Beans
  • Chocolate Frogs
  • A pointy hat (however any hat will do)
  • Wood sticks as wands (please consider Health and Safety, we only had them for decor)
  • Brooms
  • Harry Potter Themed Music

Activities

Harry Potter Retrospective Prime Directive

“Regardless of what dark magic, trolls or dementors we discover on our way, we understand and solemnly swear that every wizard and witch in this room has practiced the best magic they could, given what spells they knew, what wands, caffeinated potions or cauldrons they had available at the time, given the hard magical duel they had at hand.”

Adapted from the Agile Prime Directive to fit the Harry Potter Theme

Sorting Hat

You will need to prepare (or print) some small emblems with the four Hogwarts houses. Try to evenly split the number of stickies to be enough for the number of participants you anticipate. Put them all in a hat and then ask everyone to randomly pick one.

For the reminder of the retro, they will be representing that Hogwarts house. For reference, the four Hogwarts houses are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.

Alternative: Ask participants to repeatedly count from 1 to 4 until everyone has a number and establish which number belongs to which house (e.g. 1 – Gryffindor, 2 – Ravenclaw, 3 – Hufflepuff, 4 – Slytherin).

Magical Duel

Please consider your audience’s ability to participate in this energiser. Some individuals may have reduced mobility, a visible or invisible disability.

This ice breaker/energiser is lots of fun and can be found in many shapes and forms all over the internet. It is a variant of the Zip Zap Zoom energiser and the closest thing I could find to a spell casting/wizardry activity, based on a cowboy variant Minno ran during one of her retros.

Get everyone to form a circle (I used the Sorting Hat activity to decide the order). Proceed by explaining the energiser rules. I recommend doing a couple of trial runs to see if the rules have been understood and finally play it for good.

Rules:
There are 4 different actions a person can perform. The direction in which they do action is important. A player is out of the game if they perform the wrong action, do it in the wrong direction or if they hesitate. Before starting, decide on someone to begin and the direction they will do it.

Actions:

ZipCast a spell by pointing towards someone in the same direction. The receiver can use Zip, Zap, Broom or Alakazam
ZapPut you arms above yourself forming a triangle to dodge the Zip for yourself and the next person. The person after the next one in your direction will need to continue. The receiver can use Zip or Broom. Two consecutive Zaps are not allowed
BroomRaise the arm corresponding to the direction the Zip is coming to block it and change direction of the game. Two consecutive Brooms are not allowed. If the wrong arm is used, the player is out of the game
AlakazamLean forwards and point towards the person you want the game to jump to. They can decide the direction the game continues, starting with a Zip. Three consecutive Alakazams are not allowed

At the end declare the individual and the Hogwarts House they represent the winners of the Duel.

Hero’s Journey – Harry Potter themed

Albeit the Hero’s Journey activity is best suited for futurespectives, it can still be run in a retro format and is particularly good as it can be easily adapted to a Harry Potter retrospective. It will help your team think about the story they want to define for their hero (themselves).

To run this activity, prepare and put up 4 index cards (or draw directly on a board), each representing a particular area you want the team to focus on writing the story. Optionally add a 5th category up, the Messenger, for appreciations participants want a messenger to deliver to other team members.

HeroWho is the person or the group going through the journey. Ask the team to focus on identifying both their strengths and weaknesses
GuideName or identify the people, actions or activities that can help and take the team forward towards achieving their goals, getting to the Treasure
CavernThe challenges, unknowns or issues that can stop or prevent the hero from getting to the treasure
TreasureThe goal, award or achievements towards which the Hero is working or fighting for
MessengerMessages of appreciations for individuals or the team that the participants want the messenger to send to other team members

After explaining the focus areas, ask the participants to write post its about them. Group them by topics and by running a filtering activity like dot voting, discuss the most important ones.

Tip: Although optional, use the “Messenger” category to end the retrospective on a positive mood. Either read them out loud or group them per person and hand them privately. It always lifts people’s mood up knowing others appreciate their contribution.

Owl To Self

Using some index cards (or post-it notes) and given everyone has a pen, ask the participants to reflect and write down an action, a thought or something they want to do better/keep themselves accountable for until the next retrospective. Let everyone know this is for themselves and won’t be read out, so they can keep it confidential and take it back with them at their desks.

This is and adaptation from the Note to Self check out activity, taking in consideration the Harry Potter retrospective theme.

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