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Learn from each project with a Mad Sad Glad retrospective

PostsProject management
Lauren Grabau

Lauren Grabau

March 02, 2022

It may remind you of kindergarten flashcards, but the Mad Sad Glad retrospective is a simple and effective tool for looking back at a recently finished project or sprint and finding ways to improve the next one. If you mastered kindergarten, you’ll get this one down in no time.

Unlike the Start Stop Continue retrospective or the Keep Problem Try retrospective, the Mad Sad Glad retrospective brings feelings and a level of personality to the process that you don’t always see in the office. While all three retrospectives have some similarities, as we dive deeper into Glad Sad Mad, you’ll easily see what sets it apart from the rest. Let’s get going!

What is a Mad Glad Sad retrospective?

Using Cacoo’s Mad Sad Glad template, your team will look back on the sprint or project that you’ve all just finished together. The gist of this exercise is that you’ll find points of the process that made you (individually or as a team) mad, sad, or glad.

Cacoo Mad Sad Glad retrospective template

Mad: what makes you upset?

List instances that made you irritated or frustrated, including those eye-rolling and forehead-slapping moments. This section allows the team to vent about issues that derailed the project, affected their well-being, or made their jobs much harder. Use the ‘Mad’ portion as an opportunity to learn how the team or organization can improve and make the work environment better for everyone.

Sad: what makes you disappointed?

List examples of when you were disappointed or let down. Think of the events that made you need a deep breath. What events or decisions drained your energy or made it difficult for the team to work together? Were there moments when you or your team were overwhelmed? The ‘Sad’ section is where you can discuss ways that you, the team, the project, or the company fell short of expectations.

Glad: what makes you happy?

List the successes you experienced along the way, no matter how small. When did you celebrate or feel proud of the team? What things pleasantly surprised you? Call attention to moments when the team exceeded expectations or aspects of the project, team, environment, or resources provided a positive experience.

Benefits of the Mad Sad Glad exercise

Unlike other Agile and Scrum retrospectives, Mad Sad Glad encourages your team to reflect on the sprint from an emotional perspective. The goal is to promote self-awareness and help team members relate to each other on a human level. That way, your coworkers will become more effective at solving problems as a team. Other benefits include:

  • Better communication: using the Glad Mad Sad framework on a regular basis encourages the team to feel comfortable expressing their feelings. Emotional communication barriers develop when people feel unheard or unsupported, and eventually, it impedes collaboration. By speaking openly about frustrations, your team can address problems before they escalate.
  • Increased trust and empathy: sharing different perspectives allows everyone to see how their coworkers think, instead of relying on assumptions. The more your team members open up to one another, the more understanding they’ll be when problems or disagreements arise.
  • Efficient collaboration: Agile teams often work under pressure. Mistakes and obstacles that normally wouldn’t lead to major conflicts could be amplified by the stress of high expectations and approaching deadlines. Mad Sad Glad motivates you to address these issues as soon as the sprint is over so that harmful habits or policies don’t carry over into the next project.
  • Constructive format: the last thing you want is for teammates to unleash a mountain of pent-up resentment in the middle of a project. Or, even worse, frustrated employees might simply look for another job. The retrospective provides a structured, safe environment where team members can speak up, making them less likely to have negative interactions in day-to-day operations.

How to host a Mad Sad Glad retrospective

Now that you have your Cacoo template and everyone understands the categories, notify your team about the meeting process in advance. Give them ample time to prepare examples they can place under each category.

As the manager, you can either facilitate this meeting in person or virtually. Fortunately, Cacoo allows all team members to edit together in real time.


Gather your team and make sure you have a safe environment for sharing ideas. Having a cold, close-minded, or threatening environment could chill speech and stop the meeting from being as productive as it could be.

Since everyone already had the chance to come up with examples on their own, you can go around and let everyone name something on their list one at a time. Or, you can allow everyone to fill in template categories on their own. The second method allows you to move straight to the voting and discussion steps.


Are any of the suggestions exactly the same or extremely similar? Eliminate one or combine them into one point! This process is called grouping, and it helps a lot with cutting out the clutter. Grouping also gives the team an opportunity to conduct some preliminary discussions about each other’s suggestions.


Now that you’re down to the more generalized points with no repeats, vote on which remaining items in each category are the most important.

You can approach this step however you like since there are so many voting styles. For instance, every member can start with five to ten votes. Then, use dot voting by letting everyone post their allotted votes on whichever ideas they believe are most crucial or doable (they can even place all ten on the same idea if it’s REALLY important to them). Alternatively, you can allow everyone a single vote or give everyone a ‘yes/no’ vote on each suggestion.

After the voting process, you can address everything that received a vote or only keep the top five to ten from each category. Again, there’s a lot of customization you can do with this step to fit your team and budgeted time.


Now is the time to really dig in. Go through each issue, category by category. What caused this event? Is there something you could do to fix it or replicate it? Avoid singling out any one person while going through this step. It can be easy to accidentally attack someone’s performance or work ethic if you aren’t careful.

Also, make sure to give each issue adequate time. You’ll probably want to aim for about five to ten minutes for each note. But try not to let time limit you if the team is having a beneficial discussion. The whole point of the retrospective is to bring about fresh insights. You don’t want to cut them short for the sake of following a schedule.

Acting on discussion

Come up with at least one or two actionable items for each suggestion on the list, no matter which category it fell under. You can even place one team member in charge of doing follow-up research to make sure all of this great work doesn’t fall by the wayside as you move into your next project.

Best practice for Mad Sad Glad retrospectives

1. Create a safe space for sharing feedback.

Choosing this retrospective format won’t automatically make your work environment conducive to sharing. As the project manager, it’s essential to explain your reasons for using Mad Sad Glad and reassure your team that their feelings will be taken seriously.

2. Show examples of how to express feelings constructively.

Since you don’t want anyone to feel personally attacked, offer guidance on how your team should express their feelings. Do this before the first retrospective, and reiterate the guidelines if you notice people straying from them.

As a rule of thumb, you should stick to neutral language and focus on behavior, rather than targeting a person’s character. For example, you probably wouldn’t get a good reaction if you accused a coworker of being careless or disorganized. It’s more constructive to say, “I felt stressed and overwhelmed when I received reports at the last minute because I had to rush my other work.”

3. Set the stage for meaningful discussion.

In many cases, your team will have to step away from other work for the retrospective meeting — so help them get in the right mindset. Use icebreaker questions to set the tone and refresh their thoughts about the topic at hand. One option is to run through the Mad Sad Glad model with a fun sample topic. For instance, ask what made your team mad, sad, and glad about the weekend, their lunch, or a show you’ve all seen.

4. Give equal weight to everyone’s feelings.

Although, it’s important to narrow down which topics to focus on, avoid dismissing anyone’s feelings during the brainstorming phase. Let everyone express their thoughts, even if one or two people are the only ones experiencing a particular issue. If the same people are repeatedly alienated, it creates a restrictive environment where some team members don’t feel valued within the group.

5. End with an action plan.

Because Glad Mad Sad focuses on feelings, it’s easier for managers to leave the discussion without implementing changes. The exercise isn’t just about venting; it’s about helping your team figure out how to communicate and collaborate better.

In other words, don’t leave it up to individual team members to solve the conflicts. Try to come to a consensus on ways you can make positive improvements in everyday operations. That way, your team members are more likely to feel accountable for their behavior or habits going forward.

Mad Sad Glad tools

People may have told you to keep feelings out of the office. However, the Mad Sad Glad retrospective demonstrates that there’s a time and place to bring your feelings to the table. It’s possible that other team members have similar feelings about particular events but never felt like there was a time or place to bring it up.

Mad Sad Glad not only gives you a chance to express those concerns, but it also improves how you conduct projects in the future.

Even though it allows for a lot of customization, the Sad Mad Glad model isn’t suitable for every situation. Check out some of the other retrospective templates Cacoo offers to see what works best for your team. Plus, find a quick guide to six types of retrospectives to learn more and decide which option will be right for your team.

After your next project, try Mad Sad Glad and see how it fits your team!

This post was originally published on August 30, 2020, and updated most recently on March 2, 2020.



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