Joys, Problems, and Jokes Retrospective

Sometimes, we let problems go on for so long that we stop seeing them as problems we can solve. Instead of hoping we cn fix the problem, we joke about it. The problem becomes an inside joke, repeated or heckled frequently until the joke itself becomes ingrained in the culture.

A few years ago, my wife and I moved from a condo to a larger house. Some house chores take much longer in a larger house, like vacuuming. Whenever my wife would get ready to vacuum, she whould joke “Get a bigger house he said. It’ll be fun he said.” Vacuuming had transitioned from a problem into a joke.

Jokes get old though. And finally tiring of the joke, I resolved to fix it by buying a Roomba. Now I have other problems, like getting someone other than me to run Roomba, but my wife and I don’t repeat the old joke.

Taking this lesson, I crafted a retrospective exercise. This is designed to surface those large, systemic problems by asking the team to consider what they joke about. I ran this retro recently and the team seemed to enjoy it. Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Joys, Problems, and Jokes

Supplies Needed

  • Post-Its
  • Markers
  • Dry Earase board or Poster sized Post-It
  • Dry Erase Markers


Distribute Post-Its and Markers and write on the Dry Erase Board or Giant Poster the 3 words Joys, Problems, and Jokes as a header to 3 different columns. Reserve some space on the board for Action Items

Introduce the 3 sections to the team by describing the joys as the positive things that happened in the last timebox (sprint, iteration, PI, etc.), the problems as those struggles that arose in the same timebox, and the jokes as the problems that are so long running that we now joke about them. Feel free to use my example or use one from your life or work to make it personal.

Running the Retro

Give the team members about 5 minutes to jot down 1 idea per Post-It. When done, ask them to post their items on the board in the appropriate section.

You can use dot-voting if you have more Post-Its than time allows you to discuss.

Then invite the team to discuss each of the items and bring the conversation back to look for actionable improvements when the conversation strays.

Don’t forget to capture the action items as the team discusses them. Ensure the team agrees to the action items and ensure each item has an owner before concluding the retro.

While tackling the Jokes, solutions may be harder to come by. There’s a reason the team and the organization jokes about these problems - they are likely hard to solve and others may have tried in the past. Ask what we’ve done before so we can consider lessons learned. If the team gets stuck on solutions, ask how they can make things just a little bit better, so things aren’t nearly as painful.