4Ls Retrospective Format: Liked Learned Lacked Longed for Retrospective

Alex Vernik
Alex Vernik
Engineering Ops Specialist
Posted on
Aug 13, 2020
Updated on
Jul 12, 2022
Table of Content

Retrospective formats come in many forms; here we'll be looking at the 4Ls retrospective sprint format. 

How to run the 4Ls Retrospective Format TL;DR

The 4Ls Retro format is broken down into 4 elements:

  • Liked: Team members write things they liked about the previous sprint and are asked to emphasize the positive.
  • Learned: Members write down new things learned in the previous sprint and may include technical or non-technical items.
  • Lacked: List items that were lacking in the previous sprint and what could have been done better.
  • Longed For: The team writes down things they wanted during the previous sprint which weren’t available.

What Is the 4L Retrospective Sprint Format?

The 4ls retrospective is a popular sprint retrospective because it is easy to follow along with and involves very little set-up. It is interactive and efficient in focusing on a past sprint in a way that everyone can give their opinions and points of view.  A board is set up with 4 separate squares labeled: liked, learned, lacked, and longed for. Each team member is given sticky notes and asked to write down at least one thing for each square. Then they are all placed on the board in the correct category and the team discusses each section in detail.

The premise is pretty straightforward and the rewards vast. 

Liked:

Discussions surrounding this component revolve around what went smoothly and was helpful in the most recent past sprint/project. Members reflect on what aspects of the process they liked and would ideally keep implementing. 

Here, we embrace the positives. Give praise where it's deserved and salute their strengths. 

Learned:

Members would then share new lessons, tricks, ideas, and strategies they learned along the way. These new discoveries may be technical or non-technical but are sure to be helpful either way. 

When it comes to new knowledge, sharing is caring. The combined lessons and trial and error of each member add up to be a really powerful collection of knowledge, perspective, and refined directions for everyone. 

Lacked:

This portion of the discussion is reserved for constructive criticism. Scrum members will discuss what was missing throughout the sprint process. Maybe it was something as simple as time, instruction, or communication, or maybe it's more specific like a certain software that could have made things run more smoothly. 

Could the crew or leaders have done something better or differently during the iteration?

This part of the reflection process is a great time for needs to be addressed with management/scrum masters for future improvements. 

[An alternative to this category can also be "Loathed", in which the team submits things they loathed (didn't like) about the process.]

Longed for:

Tailing off of 'Lacked', 'Longed for' opens the conversation to the perspective of what could have filled the hole of the thing that was lacking. 

Members discuss what tools they really wished they'd had in their belts for the last scrum. Maybe if the timing was something they lacked, 'longer deadlines' would be something they longed for. 

4Ls Retrospective Board
4Ls Retrospective Template

When Can the 4Ls Retrospective be Used?

The 4Ls retrospective, like most of the other retrospective formats, is best used when the memory of the process is still fresh, but the project has come to an end. The retrospective period should take place after a project, and before a new one, so that everyone can go into the new one with ample tools and a clear focus for improvements. 

A General Guide on How to Implement this Format

A retro meeting based on the 4ls format should aim to take up to an hour with all members present. 

A great way to structure this retrospective format is to set up the 4L categories on a board or virtual board like GoRetro. 

Someone should be taking minutes in great detail so that a summary can be established at the end of the meeting for the sake of reviewing and setting goals. 

For now, within these 4 labeled squares, team members would take turns applying unrevealed sticky notes under each appropriate category with their feedback. A team retrospective moderator would then uncover and address everything unique within each category in an open discussion. 

After sharing and brainstorming, clear goals and intentions should be set for the upcoming sprint based on the reflections. 

Who is this 4L Retrospective for?

Agile Retrospective meetings are for everyone who was involved in the previous relevant sprint/project. Each person involved has key feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the venture based on their personal reference point. 

Others may also have relevant feedback including potential customers/market research feedback, management, and business partners. 

It is essential that everyone is present for the meeting. Every single person involved offers a unique and vital perspective and the process can't work without them. 

Participation can be in-person or on a retrospective solution like GoRetro.

Why Is 4Ls Important?

All retrospectives are useful for things like:

  • Learning
  • Feedback
  • Constructive criticism
  • Have your feeling heard
  • Praise/acknowledgments
  • Team/project investment
  • Group morale
  • Addressing needs
  • Adapting roles
  • Solidarity
  • Bonding
  • Organization
  • Focus
  • And refinement

Along with these benefits, the 4Ls retrospective format, specifically, is also strong in conveying the needs of the whole for future success, as well as clearly discerning what went well. 

It's a great way to establish short and long-term goals for the team and projects, as well as to make adjustments as needed. 

Retrospectives in general help to put the dichotomous aspects of being a learning human into perspective, such as their past and future experiences, as well as their negative and positive feedback. 

How to Run A 4Ls Retrospective In GoRetro

The times of boardroom meetings are waning and virtual platforms have the floor. Luckily, solutions like GoRetro make collaboration and organization easy. 

Virtual agile retrospectives like the 4Ls format can be held online on a discussion-centered dashboard. 

With plenty of templates to choose from, one would only need to log in and select the 4L format to begin. Once everyone has joined the room, discussions, voting, analytics, and planning/assigning can take place. 

Comments are private until they're revealed all at once, to avoid groupthink and to potentially preserve anonymity. Other features like idea merging and vote submissions can be made on posts/elements of the format. 

Once each matter is discussed and conclusions are made, tasks can be assigned as actual action items to members for future ventures or implementing the new strategies. 

Everything is stored for reflection and reference for future retros too! 

The future of automation and virtual planning is now and GoRetro has your team covered with this multi-faceted, easy-to-use software. 

4Ls Retrospective
4Ls Retrospective

Interested in other retrospective formats?


From "What Went Well" to "Starfish retrospective", "Sailboat retrospective" and more, GoRetro's offers a wide variety of retrospective templates.
Pick up the best template for your team or create your own retro board using our custom option.

About the author

Alex Vernik
Engineering Ops Specialist

Engineering leader, passionate about coding products and value creation. Vast experience with managing R&D teams at various scales. Embracing innovation and transformation for constant improvement.

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