What's the Scoop on the Circles & Soup Retrospective Format?

Alex Vernik
Alex Vernik
Engineering Ops Specialist
Posted on
Nov 29, 2021
Updated on
Jun 6, 2022
Table of Content

The Circles and Soup Retrospective helps a team explore the phrase: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." 

These wise words can essentially be adapted into a soup-er visual Retrospective format aimed at helping direct a team’s actions and energies to the right areas. 

What Is the Circles and Soup Retrospective Format?

The Circles and Soup Retrospective format seeks to identify issues and circumstances that are manageable/controllable by the group, and ones that are partially within their control, in order to redirect energy to improve them. 

It also identifies which factors/variables are not in their control so they can park those worries and use their energy efficiently for real growth and change.

When Can This Agile Strategy be Used?

The Circles and Soup Retrospective can be used after a Sprint or Iteration, but also works great during a crisis or when the team is currently spread too thin. 

When energy is being dispersed across multiple goals and issues, without the team having time to prioritize what's most urgent and fixable, then that energy is simply being wasted. Focusing on a few key things can make all the difference in efficiency and productivity. 

Retrospectives are typically held after the completion of a project in order to shift and tune focus for the next project, but the Circles and Soup Agile Retrospective Format is more about reflection in the time of need to reduce pressure and exhaustion. By completing this retrospective, the team will be able to boost productivity immensely

How to Generally Execute the Circles and Soup Retrospective Format

Honestly, the visual aspect of the Circles and Soup Retrospective is all circles and no soup, but the soup sort of comes in metaphorically. Anyway, three circles are drawn either virtually, or on a board, sitting within each other (like a bullseye). Each layer represents a different state:

Inner Circle (Bullseye) 

This circle is the focus (squad goals). It holds the issues that the team has total control over and can change the course with intention. Sticky notes are placed within these boundaries stating issues that can be solved with 'direct action.’

Middle Circle

This circle represents issues whose solutions are a bit more nuanced. They can partially/potentially be influenced/persuaded by the team with the right effort and/or luck. Sticky notes are placed in this ring stating issues that can be coaxed ('persuasive action') closer to a desired goal.

Outer Circle

Ah, the soup– or the things that cannot be changed. As James Shore explained it, “The Soup” is a term we use to describe our working environment, and the adaptations we’ve made to any barriers floating in that “Soup.” As the team fills up the Soup portion of their retrospective board, they’ll brainstorm obstacles that they’ll have work around in the upcoming iteration. 

The board should eventually be full of issues, as well as suggested actions/reactions in words. The board itself becomes the most valuable alphabet soup around.

Circles & Soup Retrospective Board
A Circles & Soup Retrospective Example from FutureWorks Consulting

Who Is The Circles and Soup Retrospective Format For?

The Circles and Soup Retrospective format is for everyone involved in the project at hand, yet it is especially helpful to those who become overwhelmed under pressure or who carry all the pressures of the team on their shoulders. It's also helpful to combat the pointing of fingers when things are getting frustrating, by acknowledging that some things are no one's fault, and discouraging those who are prone to playing the blame game. Plus, the Circles and Soup Retrospective activity is perfect for anyone who is favorite of  fun retrospectives.

What Makes The Circles and Soup Retrospective Format Effective?

This Retrospective is as clarifying as can be. Categorizing things in such a straightforward way really opens up the opportunity to drop the stress surrounding unpredictable events and the natural attempt to interfere with them, and allows the team to create some SMART goals for the future. By doing so, so much more focus and intent can be put into what really matters. This discernment is such great practice for a team.

This format creates a great visual organization of the new Backlog framework, aiding them to see not just what the nature of things are but also what to do about them. 

How to Run A Circles and Soup Retrospective In GoRetro

GoRetro is the ultimate online retro tool for collecting and organizing thoughts and opinions. Members join a team dashboard and participate in a variety of retrospective templates, like Circles & Soup, together. 

The Agile room lets members communicate as a group or privately, comment, vote, and create visual ideas. Everything is recorded for reference, so that actionable tasks can be carried through and even assigned with due dates directly on GoRetro. 

Get the team managed and organized with GoRetro today! Learn more here

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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