4 L’s Retrospective…

There are different ways you can do a retrospective with your teams. Choose the one that will engage your teams and help in identifying few action items that will benefit the teams and in turn the organisation. In this blog we will discuss the 4 L technique. Initially developed by Mary Gorman and Ellen Gottesdiener, it is a simple and popular technique.


The Four L’s is a classic exercise that can be used in agile retrospectives. It helps your teams to look for things they Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For in their iteration, and to take actions based on their shared insight on how they are performing as a team.

As with all retrospectives, 4Ls should be timeboxed. Depending on the size of the team, 30-60 minutes should be enough. If you are doing it for the first time, then allow up to 120 minutes.

The 4 L format can be a great technique to gather data or brainstorm on ideas, etc. It can be a great facilitation tool for conflict resolution, ideations, decision making, etc.


The questions might be subtle but by moving away from the traditional agile retrospective and allowing people to be more engaged from a “heart and mind” perspective can switch up people’s thinking and open-up new insights

Also, be observant and cognizant of the team temperament. There are times your team members will not want to discuss their challenges openly but, talk about those during their water-cooler discussions. Be very attentive and full of empathy for your team. Know that we all are human beings and not machines. We deal with machines and we discuss with people. 4 L is one of the ways to do it.

As an Iteration Manager it is very important for you to know your team temperature. You are one of those leaders who have the responsibility of leading your teams to victory while ensuring that even the new entrants in your team get enough opportunities to participate in the victorious journey. It is no fun to reach the goal with few star performers instead of reaching the goal with everyone involved in the journey. The focus should be on creating a star team (cross-functional) rather stars in a team.

In short encourage your team to:

  • Highlight the positive (liked & learned) as well as the negative (lacked & longed for)
  • Think mostly from a factual (what happened) perspective, rather than an emotional perspective.

More details…

The 4Ls retrospective is designed to get people to share their thoughts as part of being agile and with the aim of continuous improvement. By asking these questions, it can help open-up the team in to sharing their thoughts, bring out new ideas and foster a sense of being heard. It is based around the following key themes:

  • Liked: What did the team really enjoy about the sprint? In particular; what went better than expected? Emphasize on the positive.
  • Learned: What new things did the team learn during the sprint? These can be technical things (like the importance of unit testing) or, nontechnical things (like a new and effective way to keep a key stakeholder informed). It can also be about new ways of doing things. It can be around technology, process, software delivery frameworks, etc.
  • Lacked: What things could the team have done better during the sprint? What seemed to be missing from the last iteration? This might be something that was unclear or needed to be implemented to ensure that things continue to run smoothly.
  • Longed For: What things did the team desire to have during the sprint that were unavailable? Again, these can be technical (like the need for a continuous integration server) or nontechnical (like the desire for more face time with the stake holders).

You need:

Post-it notes, flip chart paper, white board, pens etc.


  1. Hang four posters, one for each L, around the room, titled appropriately. Or, use a white board and divide it into four quadrants. One quadrant for each L.
4 L- Quadrant on white board
  • Ask people to individually jot down what they Liked, Learned, Lacked, and Longed For – one per sticky note. When the time is up (3-4 minutes), they silently place their notes on each poster.
  • Divide the team into four groups; assign an “L” poster to each group. They read all the notes, cluster as appropriate and identify themes.
  • Each group reports out on the themes.
  • The entire team (all four groups) then decides how they might use the data. Identify the action items. Share the outcome with the team and stake holders, if required.

How we did it?


Ask each team member to add what they think under each of the four questions. This is best done independently. This process might be best done anonymously in order to help surface any issues which might otherwise not come out. They can indicate when they have finished, or you can set a timer so that you know when to move onto the next stage.


Scan the ideas for common ground and have a quick discussion. Drag and drop related ideas to combine them for easier voting. Team Retro can also automatically suggest ideas that are similar, saving you and your team valuable time.


Ask people to independently vote for what they would most like to discuss in the meeting, or items that they feel are the most important. You might want to have 4 votes for example so that they select one under each topic. We used dot voting.

Votes can be tallied for the Discuss stage.

Results (Discuss and identify the action items)

You can now discuss the top voted ideas.  Walk your team through ideas one-by-one and keep the conversation focused.

Create action items based on discussions, assign owners and due dates that will carry through for review at the next retrospective.

Pizza… 😊

Spend the final few minutes to allow the team to appreciate each other and share their thoughts. That will encourage the team to speak up in groups without being overwhelmed.

Researched by- Nabarun Paul, Iteration Manager at Tavisca, A cxLoyalty company                                   


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