In Person Retrospectives Are “Retro” – Tips For The Remote Transition

Agile values face to face communication so much that the manifesto made room for it as 1of 12 principles. As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, it is clear that agilists will need to adapt. Teams need to find ways to extract as much value from new communication channels while minimizing the tradeoff between reach and richness. One of the most challenging ceremonies to adapt for a formerly colocated Scrum team is the sprint retrospective. Here are some tips and tricks to make your remote retrospectives effective, engaged, and efficient.

#1 Work off one screen/board and make it the only screen/board

When everyone shared a room, everyone can see the same information at once. The goal is to create a similar environment in our remote setting. It can be jarring to flip between users’ screens or to have information live in different places. There are various methods to achieve this. One option is to have the Scrum Master share their screen and capture everyone’s input. Another option may be to have people edit a live and shared screen. The key is to make sure everyone participates, and all ideas are both heard and visible by all. Transparency is one of scrum’s three pillars; we can’t afford to abandon it now.

#2 Find the right tool(s)

There are many tools for the job, some require licenses, and some are more feature-rich. I have led distributed retrospectives effectively with pretty low-tech solutions (using a spreadsheet and email to collect votes). However, I have discovered some tools that can make this process both more efficient and flexible with time. The one solution I will highlight is “funretro.” It allows for flexibility in how you facilitate. You can set your board up to support various retrospective formats, and have a variety of choices in conducting the actual retro. You can scribe the team’s feedback or have team members add on to the board independently in real-time. To better support interaction and transparency, you can even have each card display its author. I can’t cover every option, but suffice it to say you can configure your retro board to support a variety of retrospective styles. Where tools like fun retro shine most, however, is in the efficiency gains. The outcome of a retrospective should be 1-3 action items. A vote typically determines these items. Most collaborative tools, like (Zoom and Teams), have vote features built into them. These support quick yes/no decisions or determining a top choice on the fly. If you need something to handle dot voting (and don’t want to collect votes manually), funretro provides an easy way to set up and manage dot-mocrocy results. From experience, having the right tool in place has shaved 25% off our retrospectives while keeping people more focused, and ultimately engaged. Focus is lost when you waste time fighting a tool; your team’s retrospectives can’t afford that.

#3 Turn on video

Enabling video on calls is a team decision. I have been on effective teams on both sides of the spectrum – but it does lead to more natural interactions. There are many reasons why Agile promotes face-to-face conversations; among them, much of our speech doesn’t come from our mouth! The ability to see faces and reactions gives the team a greater sense of how feedback is received. If someone isn’t confident in a point and hears silence, they may wrap up there point prematurely before the team can benefit. However, with video, that same silence might not be discouraging if they see heads bobbing to acknowledging the observation expressed. Remote meetings regularly have awkward silence, but it is a lot less uncomfortable when we can see each other digesting information. Lastly, video can help increase commitment and focus levels. Distractions are everywhere for many of us in the “wfh” era, but seeing ourselves on video can help remind us to stay locked in for a little bit longer.

#4 Make it fun

Lastly, you want the team to be engaged. Find ways to make it enjoyable, and bring the team closer together. You can lead a retrospective with a game like “guess the desk,” where a team member shares a picture of the workstation, and everyone tries to guess who’s it is. One team I coached had a Scrum Master that excelled at finding interesting questions to have the group answer anonymously and try to match the response to kick off the retrospective. If your team has video-enabled, you can even incorporate the background into something that brings a little bit of levity.

In the end

Times are stressful, and we are all reflecting and adapting, even outside of the Sprint Retrospective. Make life easier for:

  1. The participants, by working off one screen or board
  2. The facilitator, by using the right tools
  3. The dialogue, by allowing for visual communication
  4. All, by keeping engagement high

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