The Melbourne Cup Retro

I’ve been doing this retrospective format for a number of years now and it’s been very useful. Given that we’re moving into Spring here in Melbourne I thought it would be a fitting time to publish this as we prepare for the Spring racing carnival.

For those of you who don’t live in Melbourne, or don’t know what the Melbourne Cup is all about, this will help set some background. Here in Melbourne the first Tuesday in November is a public holiday for the Melbourne Cup. The Melbourne Cup is a horse race – yes, we actually have a public holiday just because of a horse race! It’s more than just a horse race, it’s actually part of the culture here in Melbourne, there’s also the all the fashion, food, wine and socialising that goes on during the what is known as the “Melbourne Cup Carnival“ with events on throughout the week.

This particular retrospective format I’ve derived from the event is actually a “futurespective“ it’s useful to use it at the beginning of a project or product development initiative. It’s really a useful way to start to talk about risk, but to come at it from an oblique angle so that you can explore it openly without a great deal of negative fallout.

I start out with asking participants – “If this project were a horse in the Melbourne Cup, what odds would you give it?”. I ask that the participants write down their answers on a card fold it up and throw it into the middle of the table / room. I then pick up the cards and put them on the board ranking them from shortest to longest odds.

Once the values are on the wall, you can see the variety of responses. Sometimes they are clustered, sometimes they are very well dispersed. I really like it when you get a lot of very different responses, because it will add to the later discussion. One of the first times I ran this, I got one response of “2 to 1” and another of “100 to 1”.

This was actually a very small team with only a few people, so it was interesting to see those responses. When I probed some more “what made you give 2 to 1?”, I got the response “Well, the sponsors really want this to happen, so that will ensure that it’s seen through to conclusion”. Then I asked about the 100 to 1 and got a response along the lines of “The technical implementation has quite a few unknowns – I’m not sure when we hook these things together, if we’ll get it to work.

So, very quickly we came to understand that our stakeholders are not necessarily going to be a risk, but an asset in seeing this done, but the technical implementation may pose some problems. Very different risk areas and very different responses – which was great!

Now, the next step is to get a better understanding of the risks – I often use the likelihood / impact model for this. I write up a card for each type of risk from the discussion and get the team to decide on where it would fit on the chart:

Normally as part of a retrospective you’ll want to take away a few improvements / countermeasures etc to take away and action and this retro is no different. With the above chart we can decide where we want to spend our next focus for improvement – usually start with the High Likelihood and High Impact and then go from there. There may be several risk mitigating / avoidance actions that you’ll need to take, so discuss how you’re going to do this with the group.

You can add these actions to your Kanban board for follow up in the upcoming days and weeks.

The Melbourne Cup retro is a great way to obliquely address upcoming risks in a forward looking retrospective. It’s not something that you necessarily need to do very often, but you might find it a valuable addition to your retrospective repertoire. If you like this idea for a retrospective and give it a try, please reach out to me ( and let me know how it goes.  

Feature Image:

This image was originally posted to Flickr by PreciousBytes at and is distrubted under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.