Yellow Sticky Exercise


Yellow Sticky Exercise


Take one pack yellow stickies (aka “Post It” brand sticky paper notes). Place them strategically on your hands and arms, and wave them around for 10 minutes.


Wait… That’s the wrong version.


The yellow sticky exercise is a tool that is used to collect feedback from a group in a manner that encourages everybody to give feedback, doesn’t waste time, and lets people give the feedback (mostly) anonymously.


Microsoft has a tradition of doing “Post Mortems” on our projects, which are designed to figure out what went wrong, what should be done about it, and assign an owner. What typically happen is the group complains for an hour, three people dominate the conversation, several rat holes are encountered, a few things get written down as action items, and nothing ever happens with the results.


The yellow sticky exercise is an alternative. It works well whenever you want to figure out the combined opinion of the group. It was taught to me be a very sharp usability engineer.


Get everybody together in a room. Each person gets a pad of stickies and a pen. Both pens and stickies should be the same color, so things are anonymous.


In the first segment, each person writes down as many issues/problems as they can, one per sticky note. It’s useful to tell people ahead of time so they can come with lists ahead of time, but that’s not necessary. This generally takes about 10 minutes, and you continue until most of the people have run out of things to write down.


Ground rules for issues:



  1. They can’t be personal (ie no names on them)

  2. They should be specific

  3. They should have enough detail so that anybody in the room could figure out what they meant.

If you’re doing this to collect the problems you have, it’s good to ask people not to put down anything personal, and to include enough data so that


At this point you have a lot of diverse feedback items, and you need to get them placed in groups. That is done by the group. You ask the group to put the stickies up on your wall/whiteboard in meaningful groups, and just let them go at it. When there’s a group of 5 or more stickies, ask somebody in the group to come up with a label for the group and write it on the whiteboard or on a sticky. You should also ask people to move stickies around if they belong in a different group.


When everything is on the wall and people are happy with the groups, you’re done with the group. Somebody will need to stick the stickies on paper and own typing them all up.


If you do this, I’m confident that the breadth and the depth of the feedback will be much better than other methods.


Comments (4)

  1. Matt says:

    Yeah –  a company I worked for used this – was one of the more effective mechanisms they used to get feedback. Of  course this means the people that previously liked to dominate the meetings try to find other outlets 🙂

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