Timing: up to 60 min.


Room with flipchart or whiteboard, red, green, yellow and one more color sticky notes, markers/sharpies.


This approach to Retrospective is most effective when you look back at a longer period of time like project or release.

How to run?

Facilitator after setting the stage, approaches flipchart/whiteboard and draws a vertical line (in the middle). Line’s starting point is approx. 1/3 from the bottom of the object. Participants are informed that this is project’s/release’s time line by drawing dates on both ends of the line. After this, participants start data gathering part and use green stickies for positive events/facts and use red ones for the opposites. After 7-10 min they one by one approach the line and attach sticky notes relative to timeline and explain them. This is very similar to any other retrospective. At the end you have a line with green and red sticky notes all over it.

Now, there is a short discussion, grouping/removal of some of the sticky notes. After this facilitator uses a marker to draw branches that go through the sticky notes and while drawing them speaks that the tree you were growing for X amount of time has got good fruit (green) and not so good or bad (red). At the end of this there is something like a tree with branches and many fruit.

Next, facilitator draws a horizontal line perpendicular to the vertical just below it. This is a ground level. Below line is underground. Now, facilitator invites to use yellow color sticky notes to generate reasons for the red fruit above the ground. Participants spend some time, creating reasons and one by one approach the tree and attach yellow sticky notes by explaining why these. At the end we have a set of reasons for the red-fruit above. Facilitator visually draws small roots that go through yellow items in different directions. Now drawing looks like a fuller picture tree with also the part below the ground level.

Now, there is a discussion/grouping and selection of the worst yellow ones. The ones that have produced the most bad fruit. Can be done by voting.

After this, facilitator reveals 2nd drawing (recommended A1 drawing of a funnel and the bucket with inserted spade at the bottom. Text on bucket = FERTILIZER) and attaches it next to the tree. Now, facilitator invites to use last color sticky notes to generate concrete actions items for the most yellow ones by saying – “Let’s try to find what is that our fertilizer that we need to use when we grow our next tree so that it has more green fruit!”. Participants as previously create sticky notes and one by one add them right into the funnel. When all are done, discussion happens and voting at the end since not all can and needs to be done. The top voted sticky notes are moved into the bucket and that’s it!

Learning Points:

See above, but in short – see your past project/release in the time-tree-fertilizer metaphor which is another use of visual metaphors.

4 thoughts on “Time-Tree-Fertilizer retro

  1. I tried this exercise myself yesterday after quite a time not using it. And I discovered something new: If project was a Scrum one (good Scrum :)), then a lot of issues got solved in between Sprint retrospectives. In other words, before moving on with fertilizer part, it is important to check what is still actual from the root causes and narrow it down first. Yesterday team found a completely new action item because all “bad” roots were already well cared for during the project.

  2. Thanks for this approach, was loved by all 4 teams i demonstrated this with. We will be utlising it as part of our upcoming Inspect and Adapt Session for PI Planning.

  3. I plan to use this for a product retro. Really excited about it. Will be making a few modifications. Once I have used it I will provide feedback and details on what I changed and how it went!

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