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Run The SailBoat Agile Exercise or Sailboat Retrospective

The Sailboat exercise helps teams to define a vision of where they want to go; it helps them to identify risks during their path and allows them to identify what slows them down and what helps them to achieve their objectives.

SailBoat Exercise

Agile Retrospectives and especially the SailBoat Exercise has been used as a great tool to improve teams and organizations over the past years, but we think it’s not enough for your company to become a great Digital Product Company.  The ADAPT Methodology® is a unique Digital Product Development framework to guarantee the success of Leaders in the Digital Era!


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In this post, I will explain the method known as SailBoat Exercise or Sailboat Retrospective.


This exercise can be found in the book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives. A book that was written by me and Ben Linders with a foreword by Esther Derby.


Sailboat Exercise

What you can expect to get out of this technique

From my experience, this technique is quite appreciated by teams because of its simplicity.


This exercise helps teams to define a vision of where they want to go; it helps them to identify risks during their path and allows them to identify what slows them down and what helps them to achieve their objectives.

When you would use this technique

I believe this method is quite simple and does not require any special occasion. Although, it might be interesting for situations when a retrospective is conducted with more than one team at the same time.


I had a situation, not long time ago that two teams worked together and because of their level of dependency on each other, they decided to conduct a common retrospective because of some ongoing issues.


Using the SailBoat exercise can be extremely interesting because we simply put the name of both teams on the SailBoat and we remind everyone that we are on the same SailBoat navigating to the same direction.


This technique reveals all good things and less positive things performed by a team.

How to do it

This retrospective is quite simple. First, we draw a SailBoat, rocks, clouds, and a couple of islands like it is shown on the picture on a flip chart.


The islands represent teams´ goals/vision. They work every day to achieve these islands. The rocks represent the risks they might encounter towards their vision.


The anchor on the SailBoat is everything that is slowing them down on their journey. The clouds and the wind represent everything that is helping them to reach their goal.


Having the picture on the wall, write what the team vision is or what our goals as a team. After that, start a brainstorming session with the team allowing them to dump their ideas within different areas.


Give ten minutes to write their ideas. Afterward, give 5 minutes to each person to read out loud their ideas.


At this point discuss together with the team how can they continue to practice what was written on the “clouds” area. These are good ideas that help the team, and they need to continue with these ideas.


Then spend some time discussing how can the team mitigate the risks that were identified. Finally, together with the team chose the most important issue that is slowing the team down.


If you do not find an agreement within the team about the most important topic that should be tackled, you can use vote dots.


In the end, you can define what steps can be done to fix the problem, and you can close the retrospective.


Like many other exercises, this exercise does not require a collocation of a team. You can use, for example, tools like Lino, to apply the exercise to non-collocated teams. This tool allows us to do everything that we need to run this exercise.


What do you think? Your feedback is always extremely important for me, so please leave me your comments.

In Summary

An Agile Retrospective is an event that ́s held at the end of each iteration in Agile Development and it serves for the team to reflect on how to become more effective, so they can tune and adjusts its behavior accordingly.


I believe the SailBoat exercise is quite a simple Agile Retrospective Exercise and does not require any special occasion.


If you are interested in getting some extra Agile Retrospectives 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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Luis Gonçalves

About Luis Gonçalves

Luis Gonçalves is an Entrepreneur, Best Seller Author & International Keynote Speaker that works exclusively with Senior Executives of 7 to 8 figure businesses on the deployment of his game-changing ‘The ADAPT Methodology™’.


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