Running a successful Start Stop Continue retrospective
March 02, 2022
The end of something is never really just an ending — it’s the beginning of something new. Whether you’ve just finished another sprint, an entire project, an eventful quarter, or a typical week on the job, your team can conduct a retrospective to improve processes as often as you see fit. A great way to do this is with the Start Stop Continue retrospective. The simple structure is quick and convenient to work through, making it perfect for any team.
We’ll take things a step further and make the process even easier for you. Cacoo provides a simple Start Stop Continue template for running this retrospective meeting online. With no experience, you can easily conduct this meeting with your team, no matter where you are. Let’s dive in!
What is a Start Stop Continue retrospective?
The Start Stop Continue retrospective is a quick meeting format that encourages you to reflect on recent project experiences as a team and decide how to make continuous improvements. It’s a common tool in Agile and Scrum sprints and an extremely simple process for your team to both learn and run. If you’re already familiar with the Keep, Problem, Try retrospective, a lot of this process might sound similar.
Start Stop Continue consists of three main parts (you guessed it!): start, stop, and continue.
The ‘Start’ portion of the retrospective is a list of things the team doesn’t currently do but could start doing. In this step, you should consult your team for ideas that might be beneficial to add to the process.
For example, should you start using a risk register to protect high-stakes projects from costly setbacks? Are there are any extra steps, processes, or software you could incorporate to make a project go smoother?
Now is the time to write down everyone’s suggestions. It’s possible that some of your team members have had a ton of great ideas for a while but never knew when or how to suggest them. Here’s a chance for everyone to contribute!
The ‘Stop’ step is the exact opposite. Ask your team which parts of the process aren’t working or are slowing your overall progress. Maybe, there’s software that continuously malfunctions or a step in the process that takes up time without showing any results. Perhaps, you have too many levels of approval that seem unnecessary and prevent productive decision-making.
Although focusing on the negative may seem harmful, it’s crucial to identify and address ongoing problems. Chances are, your team members have issues with the process for some reason or another. Recurring problems can have a long-term impact on morale and productivity, so don’t shy away from hashing these things out. Find out what’s going wrong and why.
‘Continue’ is usually the easiest step of the process. Simply look at the project, and see what worked. What went off without a hitch? Those are things you should continue to do in all your future projects to keep getting good results.
Since there isn’t as much critical thinking, research, or discussion involved, this step might not seem important. However, it’s just as valuable to acknowledge the things that are going right as it is to recognize and change the things that are hindering your success.
Advantages of the Start Stop Continue retrospective
As you likely know, there is an ever-growing list of retrospective ideas you can implement. So, what makes this particular model worth trying? Below, we’ll outline some of the benefits of the Start Stop Continue retrospective model.
1. Routine reflection reduces waste and encourages innovation.
The ‘Start’ and ‘Stop’ phases help your team streamline their workflow and optimize each project’s value to the organization. At the same time, the ‘Start’ phase motivates everyone to keep thinking about what comes next. At its core, this retrospective model encourages your team to build upon the positive gains of the past and develop fresh, evidence-based ideas.
2. Making ongoing improvements puts your organization in a better position to take action.
Any time you ignore a problem and let it grow, it gets harder and harder to solve later on. The same goes for organizational issues. However, if you regularly make incremental improvements, you’ll have the time and flexibility to manage problems efficiently. The Start Stop Continue model helps you address problems early on and ramp up processes that are more beneficial to the team.
3. Giving honest feedback becomes a habit.
No successful team can function without trust and open communication. Since the Start Stop Continue feedback focuses on processes and not specific roles, it’s easier for team members to speak up about things that aren’t working well.
In most cases, you’re discussing actions you have taken or will take as a team — not targeting one person’s work or ideas. After a few sessions, your team will feel comfortable diving in and giving honest feedback without fear of alienating others.
4. Following through on the changes builds trust.
When you invite everyone to change the organization for the better, you strengthen trust and respect between team members. Of course, these positive results only happen when leaders follow through on the suggestions.
The Start Stop Continue method allows everyone to understand different perspectives on the team and see their own suggestions being put into practice. Not to mention, you’ll keep morale high by weeding out issues that frustrate your team and keep them from feeling empowered in their roles.
How to run a Start Stop Continue exercise
Each step of the Start Stop Continue retrospective should consist of four functions:
- Group together
After setting a meeting time for your team, make sure you give them advanced notice to start brainstorming. Depending on when you scheduled the meeting, this could give them a few days to think and prepare. At the very least, give everyone half an hour or so to reflect on the topic at hand.
Each team member should prepare a few items to place under each category — whether written down on sticky notes, typed up in a document, or posted on your team’s online whiteboard tool. Encourage the team to ask themselves what went well with the last project? Can you think of any ways to improve upon it? What could have gone better and why?
After everyone has brainstormed, take the time to share each team member’s suggestions. You can do this as a full discussion or have everyone fill out their ideas on the Cacoo template in real-time. Then, discuss it as a team to further bounce ideas off one another.
At this point, you should go through all the items and figure out which notes are the same, similar, or could benefit from the same action. If the same item appears a lot, you can delete the repetitions. But take note that this particular problem or action is clearly important, as it stuck out to multiple team members.
Think of the meeting as a democracy, but instead of a single winner, the results depend on a proportional vote.
You can either provide unlimited votes or a fixed amount of votes (i.e., five) to each team member to spread throughout the items listed in each category. Next, the team votes by digitally adding a mark to the item on the diagram. Alternatively, you can go through the items one by one and count the votes by a show of hands.
Doing this allows you to easily choose which items to discuss or integrate into your process based on importance. You could possibly end up with over a hundred suggestions, but you can’t possibly implement them all at once. So, try to pinpoint which suggestions are doable and offer the most value. Learning to set realistic criteria and narrow down a dense list will help you get better at conducting Start Stop Continue retrospectives.
After the meeting, share all notes and meeting minutes with the team right away. Taking quick action should not only keep everything fresh in everyone’s minds but will make sure you can start implementing the suggestions in your day-to-day work as soon as possible.
The sooner you start improving your processes, the more you’ll see the benefits of the retrospective process. And with each completion, your team will become more efficient at identifying opportunities or issues with the greatest impact on your project outcomes.
Although the Start Stop Continue retrospective is pretty straightforward, there’s still some room to customize it for your team. In some cases, it makes sense to start with the ‘Continue’ step, and then move to ‘Start’ or “Stop.’ Maybe, you have another order that works for you, or your team prefers a different voting method. Change it up however you like!
One of the great things about this retrospective’s simplicity is that it allows time and clarity for a meaningful discussion without complicated rules bogging down the process. You can also check out some of the other retrospective templates that Cacoo offers to see what works best for your team. Plus, find a quick guide to six types of retrospectives to learn more and help decide which option is suited for your project goals.
After your next project, try the Start Stop Continue method and see the difference it makes going forward!
This post was originally published on August 17, 2020, and updated most recently on March 2, 2022.