Terrific retrospective Ideas to focus on individual needs – Mutant Star Fish Exercise

by Stefano Porro
retrospective ideas

The Mutant Star Fish exercise gives great retrospective ideas to focus on people´s individual needs and performance.

The mutant Star Fish originally comes from a retrospective exercise called Star Fish. The Star Fish exercise contains three familiar questions: What Went Well? What went wrong? What should be improved? I´d like to add up an additional question focused on the team: “Why is it important for me to work in this team?”

The Mutant Star Fish Exercise

As the original exercise, this one also helps to identify problems and opportunities for the team using a simple visualization method. It also allows you to identify the individual needs of every team member.

While the original exercise concentrates on the team, the mutant version helps the team to understand the individual needs.

It contains 5 stages:

  1. Stop: In the first stage, the team brings up the activities that do not bring any value – waste
  2. Less: Here the team decides to reduce activities that require a high effort but don’t bring as much value as expected
  3. Keep: Current activities that the team wants to keep. These are activities where effort and value produced are balanced
  4. More: The team decides to use activities that boost its performance. These are the activities that are not so often executed but are very valuable.
  5. Start: Start new activities to bring more value. These activities may be experiments.

Bonus: Extra Stage: Call it as you want: E.g.: WII-FM – “What´s in it for me?” Coolness. Amazing. Name this stage with a word or a phrase that will help the team to understand that this part should help them gather their individual needs and sentiments.

When to use The Mutant Star Fish exercise?

I suggest using the Mutant Star Fish exercise with teams that are new to Scrum (or Agile, generally). When people are new to Scrum, they are looking for their motivation. Focusing the exercise to both team performance and individual needs can help them to create a climate of “self-motivation”. They will understand that we are working as a team but we will never forget the single persons in the team. When a team starts with Scrum, team members are looking for a motivation to start this journey. In this way we ask them for it explicitly.

How to perform this retrospective ideas exercise

First of all, draw a diagram pictured below.

retrospective ideas

Credit: Stefano Porro

You all might be well familiar with this picture. In any case, let´s go through it together.

How to do it?

Ask the team to individually gather ideas for the STOP section (take about 3 minutes). Afterwards, ask everyone to read out loud their contributions and let them discuss the ideas. Take about 10 minutes.

Repeat the same for the LESS, KEEP and MORE areas.

In the START section, ask your team to vote for a single topic. This is a good way for a team to stay focused on a single topic, the most important one.

The order in which you put the sections to start with is important. For example, draw and underline START and WII-FM sections in the first place to start with. This is a good way for a team to start with positive brainstorming.

Going through all sections you proceed to the closure of the retrospective. At this point, the team members should talk about the individual needs and performance. Give the team members 5 minutes to write down something on post-its. Afterwards, ask them to present the ideas. After everyone reads his/her own ideas, Scrum Master will re-analyze the post-its to understand if everything is clear.

The idea here is to not implement these ideas/actions for the next sprints. But the idea is to guide the team through work they´re doing and adapt their work in a twofold manner: team and individual performance. For instance, if any of the team members is having certain issues, Scrum Master can always look at their individual needs they brainstormed earlier and guide the person towards the better path.

This retrospective ideas exercise helps to stay focused on WHY we are using Scrum. Developers wouldn´t be impressed by using numerical motivation (ROI, etc.), but you as a Scrum Master, must find the right key to motivate them.

If you are interested in getting some extra exercises, I created a blog post with dozens of Agile Retrospectives Ideas, check them and see if you find something interesting.


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Stefano Porro

About Stefano Porro

Stefano is from Turin, Italy. He has worked in IT projects since 2001 and has used Scrum since 2007. You can find Stefano on Twitter @StefanoBowen. If you prefer email, feel free to contact Stefano at [email protected] You can follow Stefano’s blog http://agilekarma.com/author/stefano-porro/ to know more about his work and his ideas.


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