Online Retrospectives for remote Scrum teams

As a team you are spread across several locations and want to do your next retro online? Maybe you already have experience with retrospectives that involve remote collaboration? But somehow this doesn’t work as well as when you are all together in the same (real) room? Maybe you have already observed one or more of these problems in your “Online Scrum Retro”:

  • Not everyone can participate equally at the success of the retrospective
  • Only a few participants are actively involved
  • It takes forever to activate all your online retro tools and when you want to get started, your retro is almost finished
  • From time to time there are situations in which everyone is silent – and that does not feel so good for all of you

The reason for this is quite simple. If teams work together via online tools, communication techniques that otherwise run by nature only work to a very limited extent or no longer at all. Worth mentioning are language, facial expressions, gestures, posture and position in the room in relation to each other as well as working together with objects. Tables, chairs, whiteboards, pens, notes. You know what is meant.

But fortunately you can do a lot yourself to breathe some “life” back into your online retro. We’d like to give you some suggestions, practical tips and a few of our ideas.

Now brand-new: Kanban Simulator Online

Whether as an individual, team or facilitator: If you’re not in one place together, then workshop formats like the Ship Building Game simply won’t work! Therefore we have developed a special Online Browser Game for the “Kanban Shipbuilding Simulation” in the last weeks, which enables you to participate interactively and live in a Kanban simulation. With this game you can overcome distances.

Before you begin: some moderation tips for Remote Retrospectives

 

  • go fully remote
  • A very clear recommendation: if *one* participant is remote, then *all* should be remote (i.e. each of you individually in front of his computer).

  • check-in
  • Create a “check-in” zone in your tools where each participant first writes his or her name when “arriving”. This ensures that everyone is in the right tool and is able to work with it.

  • check tech
  • At the first check-in of the Retro take the opportunity to do a short technical test with each participant (“can you hear me? – do I hear you? – does anyone not hear the participant?”).

  • set a sequence (and rotate)
  • If necessary, use the check-in zone to determine an sequence order of all participants (e.g. with a number in front of each name), this will be useful later on when questions are raised to the group. Alternative sequence method: each participant determines her follow-up after she has finished.

  • make rules explicit
  • Make rules for the appointment explicit, e.g. “if you are not talking, please switch off the microphone”.

  • no open questions
  • Avoid open positive questions such as “has everyone understood?” (it is extremely difficult for a participant to answer them, because you cannot see if someone is “twitching” in front of you), so it is better to prefer negative questions such as “has someone not understood?” and deliberately leave the participant a few seconds to respond. The rule is: no response = everyone agrees.

  • veto bases decisions
  • Even more often than in face-to-face meetings, a group decision is required in online retros. Here, for example, consent-based decisions are very helpful.  Instead of “does everyone agree?” you ask “does anyone have a clear veto against it and wants to stop the group from doing so? (see group decision).

  • use the sequence (and explicitly give time)
  • If an open positive question is necessary after all, you can use the fixed order (you don’t always have to start at 1 ;)- e.g. “do you have a question about the pieces of paper on the board” and then go through in this order.

  • keep a chat tool available in the background
  • If you use a visualization tool (e.g. webwhiteboard, Miro, Confluence, etc.), it is recommended to use a chat tool where all participants are online (e.g. to send links, copy-paste, etc.). It is also considered as fallback, in case someone is “kicked out” of the primary tool.

  • learn together, step by step
  • As always with an agile approach: Inspect & Adapt! So don’t hesitate to ask for feedback on methodology and tools every time and adapt accordingly!

Tools in a nutshell – which tools do you use for remote retros?

Of course we have no simple answer to this 🙂 The setup depends on your needs, possibilities and habits. However, we have listed some tools here that we regularly use ourselves. The most important thing for us is that the usage runs smoothly without special technical requirements. And preferably without registration, so that we don’t have to annoy our customers with additional user accounts on different tools.

 

Whiteboards

  • www.miro.com

Shared whiteboard, no download, free(*), but users must registrate.

On the other hand, the tool is very modern and technically more robust, also has a lot functionalities and also offers many valuable templates.

(*)free version with limited possibilities

Example of a retro with Miro

  • jamboard.google.com

If you have a Google Account you can organize a jamboard. A simple online whiteboard with few but well working features. Invitation to external participants without registration is also possible. The biggest disadvantage in our opinion: the boad area is very small. But you can create several boards (similar to slides) in one document.

Example of an exercise with Jamboard

  • mural.com

We are just starting to test, more about this soon! Do you already have experience? Tell us about it in the comments or write us a mail: hallo@komplexitaeter.de

Conferences and Telcos

  • www.whereby.com

Up to 4 participants for free, screen sharing and chat included. Works without download or registration (except for creating a room).

We have made very good experiences with it, but the tool is slightly limited in its free version.

Example of a Telko with Whereby

  • the usual suspects

Such as Skype, Zoom, Teams, Slack, Hangouts, etc. However, these depend much more on the situation in your company.

 

Further tools

  • Since many Scrum teams also use Estimation Poker or sometimes need other evaluation tools (traffic light system, Delegation Poker, etc.) we have developed a free, registration-free tool for you: https://komplexitaeter.de/poker/

Example of an estimation round with our tool

  • Mentimeter

Very efficient survey tool (among many other features), which we like to use for quick feedback – especially within larger groups. Participants only need to go to a URL and can quickly answer questions without logging in. This can also be used very well in retrospectives, e.g. to have multidimensional assessments made (satisfaction with teamwork/satisfaction with the result). Simple and beautiful, very cool!

      

Examples of a feedback round for a sprint review and an exercise from a retro in mentimeters

  • FunRetro.io

The name says it all. The tool is 100% optimized for remote retrospectives. Offers a powerful free version, no download required. Registration required. Advantage: many templates for different retro methods are offered. Disadvantage: this only works with methods that consist of writing notes to categories. But a very useful and well working tool!

Examples of a retro with FunRetro.io and an insight into the list of templates

  • retromat.org

*The* inspiration for retro methods. Currently not yet optimized (or filterable) for remote retro, but everyone can browse through numerous ideas and methods and get inspired.

This is how the Retromat looks like

And this is how you create your own individual “Online Scrum Retro”

You probably already know the typical structure of a Team Retro, as it is suggested on the “Retromat” page: “Set the Stage”, “Gather data”, “Generate insides”, “Decide what to do” and “Close”. According to our own experience, especially the three blocks in the middle usually flow very smoothly into each other. Which is why we like to treat them as “the one part in the middle”.

In the next three sections you will find possible suggestions for a method, which is designed to work in an online retro. The individual methods from the three blocks can be combined with each other in any way. Which one you choose for your team depends on where you are in the evolution of your team. Suggestion: look at some ideas together and “vote” in the run-up to the retrospective (e.g. via a Doodle poll) how your next “Online Scrum Retro” should work. As always, there is no “right or wrong”, but a common learning opportunity for you as a team.

Set the stage – warm-up exercises

Sure. You’re all coming together from different mental and geographic corners into one virtual place. You want to discuss what you want to adapt concerning your teamwork in the next sprint iteration based on the passed Scrum Sprint. Surely each of you has made some observations and “parked” for the next online retro. But what again was that exactly? And how are the other team members feeling at this moment? Is this the right moment to bring one or the other critical topic onto the “virtual” table?
The “set the stage” phase offers everyone the opportunity to arrive. Get ready for the coming retro. If necessary, first of all to lighten the ballast, which should not disturb the mutual exchange. In other words, an opportunity to get in the mood together and to engage in the shared learning experience.

Duration

5 to 10 minutes 

Idea

In this exercise, participants search the wild Internet for a picture that best represents their answer to a particular question. For example, “how did I like the last sprint?” or “how do I see us as a team?”. Meaningful mood pictures are created and so the team quickly gets an overview at the start of the retro. Of course each participant explains his or her choice in a few sentences.

Material & Tools

Videoconference, possibly web whiteboard to determine the sequence of participants

Facilitation guide

Ask one question to everyone, for example:
– what do I expect from today’s retro?
– how did I like the last sprint?
– how do I see us as a team?
– or more specifically: if the last sprint was a movie…
– etc.
Everyone has 3 minutes to search the internet for a picture that best answers this question.
Whoever is done keeps the picture ready and at the end all pictures are uploaded at the same time.
Next, each person briefly explains why he/she has chosen this picture.
It can look like this in Miro, for example:

 

Duration

10 to 15 minutes

Idea

The aim of this little exercise is to put yourself in the perspective of another team member: How did your neighbor perceive the last sprint? This creates a common picture of how you experienced the last iteration as a team. But it’s not quite as simple as that, because everyone has to imagine how the other team members fared. 

Material & Tools

Videoconference, possibly web whiteboard to determine the sequence of participants 

Facilitation guide

It is recommended to determine a sequence in in advance (you will find some suggestions in our moderation tips). So everyone in the team has exactly one successor (the last one in the list corresponds to the person at number 1).

Afterwards, you ask a question to one of the team members regarding the perception of the successor of this person. Here are a few possible examples:

  • How did your neighbour feel about the last sprint?
  • How is your neighbor feeling right now?
  • What annoyed your neighbor the most in the last iteration?
  • What has your neighbour been proud of in the last few days?

The questioned person now tries to put him/herself in the position of his/her colleague and to answer the question to the best of his/her conscience. Do not be shy, there are no wrong answers! Afterwards the successor himself may briefly respond to what has been said. Once he or she has done so, the interviewee answers the same question for his or her successor … and so on until it was everybody’s turn.

Duration

5 minutes

Idea

The aim of this little exercise is to quickly gain an overview of the perception of the last sprint as a team. This way you start the “Online Retro” together very effectively and everybody knows where you stand as a team. Note: the dimensions can of course be adjusted as desired and depending on the situation.

Material & Tools

Videoconference, online whiteboard or mentimeter (see tools), if necessary you can use this picture as a template (Download). 

Facilitation guide

There are two axels on the board that say “How happy am I with…”
– “our cooperation”
– “the result of the sprint”
Each participant thinks about it for two minutes and then places a piece of paper with his or her name at the appropriate position on the graphic. If you have done the check-in with a sequence (see moderation tips), you can use these notes right away.
Afterwards, each participant explains in one or two sentences what his or her opinion is based on and, if applicable, what he or she wants from today’s retrospective.

Gather data – generate insights – decide what to do

The part in the middle. The aim is to generate insights and finally concretely implementable steps from the experience made and shared. That is of course a process. What experiences have there been where you as a team wish for change or improvement? Where does the shoe pinch most? What solutions can you imagine that could improve this situation in the future? Which of these solutions do you as a team have in your own hands? How can it be tackled?

Of course there are at least as many different perspectives as there are team members in your team. The challenge – especially remotely – is to shape a team decision that is supported by everyone. Which will then lead to an effective change that is fun for everyone.

Note: often you will want to prioritize results, solutions, problems, etc., in the exercises described above you will find the description “now you prioritize…”. Different methods and approaches to do this effectively online are explained in detail in the last tab “Prioritizing online”.

Duration

20 to 90 minutes

Idea

You may already know Fishbowl, but not necessarily as a retro method. We have made very good experiences with it, especially with larger teams (more than 8 members). It is about creating a framework for an open discussion, so that it remains structured and goal-oriented. Basic principle: only a few participants are allowed to speak at any given time, but the circle of speakers constantly adapts dynamically to the need to talk.

Material & Tools

(Video-)conference, online whiteboard (see tools), if necessary use this picture as a template (Download

Facilitation guide

Upon arrival on the board, each team member creates a note with his/her name on it. On this board 4 seats are represented (e.g. by a picture of a circle of chairs).

The rules for discussion are: : 

  • only participants whose note is on one of the 4 seats in the circle of chairs may speak (all others mute their microphone)
  • all other participants place their note at the edge of the circle
  • there must always be at least one free seat available
  • each participant may at any time drag his or her note to a free place and thus directly participate in the discussion (another participant may have to free his or her note to respect the third rule)

And… that’s it! The magic does the rest and almost immediately an intensive discussion with lively and dynamic participation emerges!

A few more recommendations: : 

  • Write the rules on the board so that they are visible all the time.
  • The moderator – who is not allowed to participate!
  • writes the key points of the ongoing discussion on the board, so that they can be quickly revised by the participants if necessary. 
  • A schedule for the main points of the discussion works best, e.g: 
  • 15 min – how was the last iteration, what was annoying, what was good 
  • 20 min – what are our main problems and where do they come from 
  • 15 min – what can we as a team do to address them in the coming iteration

 

Duration

45 minutes

Idea

A classic – but very effective. It’s about looking at the situation of the team metaphorically: if the team was a sailing boat…

  • what speeds up the team (wind)
  • what has the team already achieved (island)
  • what holds the team back (anchor)
  • what risks are involved (rocks)
  • what wishes the team (sun)
  • how feels the team (ship)

Material & Tools

Videoconference, online whiteboard (see tools), if needed you can use this picture as a template (Download

Facilitation guide

Put the image with the different areas on the board.

The participants have 10 minutes to write and place the corresponding notes. The metaphor helps to structure the items and create a “fabulous” picture. Afterwards everyone takes about 5 minutes to read the notes of the other participants. Afterwards, you ask each one in turn (see moderation tips) if there are any questions of comprehension, which are then immediately answered by the author.

The next step is to reflect within the team on what the overall impression is. Meanwhile, the moderator can write a summarizing statement that reflects the statements of the team members and hang it above the picture. Then the slips of paper are clustered (if necessary) and then prioritized (see tab “online prioritization”). The helpful question here is “at what point can we take action to best improve/strengthen the situation of the team?”.

Depending on the size of the team, the team may split into subgroups in the last step (e.g. by areas). The final task is to have the team develop action items that can be used in the next sprint. At the end of the process, the action items are presented to everyone and as required a decision is made about what items will be included in the next sprint (refer to Moderation Tips -> Group Decisions).

Duration

45 minutes

Idea

This is also a classic but very effective method to provide structure to your “Online Scrum Retro”. As usual, all participants collect their topics on (virtual) pieces of paper. These are already classified into 5 categories while writing:

  • More (we should intensify)
  • Less (we should reduce)
  • Start (we should start with that)
  • Stop (we should stop doing that!)
  • Keep (that’s exactly right as it is)

 Material & Tools

Video conference, online whiteboard, FunRetro or Trello (see Tools), if necessary you can use this picture as a template (Download

Facilitation guide

Places the image with the different zones (they can also be displayed as columns e.g. with FunRetro.io or Trello) on the board.

In the first step, the participants have 10 minutes to write and place appropriate notes. The categories help to structure the points and create a “revealing” picture. Afterwards everyone takes about 5 minutes to read all the notes. Thereafter, you ask each one in turn (see moderation tips) if there are any questions of understanding which are then answered immediately by the author.

The next step is to reflect within the team on what the overall picture looks like. 

Next, the slips of paper are clustered (if required) and then prioritised (see tab “online prioritisation”). Here the following question is helpful: “How can we act to improve/strengthen the situation of the team?

According to the size of the team, in the last step the team may be divided into subgroups (e.g. by zones). This consists of having the team develop action items that can be implemented by the team, which are then tackled in the next sprint. At the end, the action items are presented to everyone and a decision is made which items will be included in the next sprint (refer to Moderation Tips -> Group Decisions).

Duration

45 to 90 minutes

Idea

You collect the topics that you are most interested in as a team and work on them in smaller groups. This works quite well online and in the smaller groups you will be able to deal better with the usual problems of online meetings. Afterwards you present the results of your work to each other and discuss how you want to deal with them.

Material & Tools

Videoconferencing tool with the possibility to use several rooms in parallel, possibly online whiteboard (see Tools) or a retro tool in which you can collect and prioritize the topics.

Facilitation guide

In the first step, ask the participants to think about a topic that they would like to discuss in detail in a smaller group. Give everyone 2 or 3 minutes to do so. Afterwards, each person presents his or her topic to the group and explains why he or she thinks this topic is important. Collect the topics in your tool (e.g. online whiteboard). 

In the next step the participants prioritize the collected topics. You should have at most half as many topics as the group has participants as top priority. For example, a group of 9 team members should have a maximum of 4 topics.  Then the participants decide which topic they want to work on. The following method is suitable for this: Everyone writes their name on a card and places it next to the card of their favorite topic. Provide as a hint that group sizes of 2 or 3 are optimal.

Very important: Now you define a timebox (e.g. 25 minutes) for the first session. It helps to leave the definite time on your tool. The groups then organize themselves into smaller video conferences and work on their specific topics. This can be a way to reach a common understanding of the problem, but in the next step, of course, it can also be a way to create concrete experiments. It is a good idea to visualize the discussed contents on an online whiteboard.

At the end of the timebox, everyone comes together again independently in the “central” room and presents their work results to each other. If you have allocated time for a second timebox, you may ask the participants to consider whether they want to change the composition of the group and then start the second round. 

Alternatively, after the end of the last session, you will of course have the opportunity to prioritize the suggestions for possible actions or experiments together again..

A particular challenge when working in distributed teams is to jointly prioritize a list of “things”. In most conventional retro formats this is of course a common procedure: What are the biggest problems at the moment? Where do we see the most value? What should we discuss and deepen in detail? What do we want to tackle in concrete terms? 

The common methods, all designed for people who are together in a physical space, are largely based on the fact that quick and small-scale interactions and individual moves are made possible and there is immediate and intuitive feedback from the other participants. All this is of course missing online at the first moment. Here you can find some of the tricks we have developed over the last years. Starting point is a list of “things” that you have created either on an online whiteboard or in another way (e.g. FunRetro or Confluence page) and want to put them in order.

MVP Tool: works best with an online Whiteboard 

You place your cards together on the edge of the board and draw a square in the middle called MVP. The square should be large so that only as many cards as you need for the next step fit into it.

Afterwards it goes one after the other (see our moderation tips). Everyone is now allowed to take and move exactly one card at a time or skip a round. Moving means to either pull a card into the square or to “throw” a card out of the square. If a card is moved, it will be given one stroke each. Cards with more than three strokes are removed from the game. They may no longer be used (Note: you may have something here that you can tackle in a separate session).

The “game” now continues until everyone skips for one round. The cards inside the square are now became your MVP: Minimum Viable … Prozess … Problem … Prio … decide on your own!

Minimum Viable Process MVP

MoSCoW Tool: works best with an online Whiteboard 

Draw a table with 4 columns on the board where your cards are located. Label the columns “Must have”, “Should have”, “Could have” and “Won’t have” from left to right. Explain to the participants that “Must have” is the absolutely necessary core, without you can’t continue. 

Then the participants move one after the other exactly one card into one of the columns. If there is no group veto, the card remains there. Otherwise the group tries to convince the participant to move his card to another column. But the decision is left to the “player” in turn. The moderator ensures that a maximum time box of one minute per card is kept.

Once all the cards in the table are arranged, continue your retro with the cards from “Must have”. If there is still time left, the cards from “Should have” and “Could have” will be added to the row.

MoSCoW Prio

The One Tool: online Whiteboard, Multi-Edit-Mode in Confluence, etc.

You explain to the participants that it is now a question of classifying the respective things exactly into one of the three categories “The One”, “Said” or “Backlog”. Either draw areas in your online whiteboard (table, box, etc.) or create the possibility of classification in your tool (e.g. another column or table in Confluence).

Participants then assign cards of their choice to one of three categories; 

  • Said = Something that simply had to be addressed 
  • Backlog = Things that should be tackled sometime
  • The One = The one thing we should be doing right now

It is important to note that each participant may only assign one topic to the category “The One”. If another participant has already assigned this topic in “The One”, then you don’t need to “search” for another topic.

Discuss at the end whether you want to move topics from “The One” into the backlog so that you can use the following timebox in a focused way.

The One

Dot Voting Tool: FunRetro, online Whiteboard, Multi-Edit-Mode in Confluence, etc.

Assign a fixed number of virtual scoring points (dots) to the participants (e.g. everyone has three points). The participants may distribute these dots to the topics that are most important to them. A topic can also receive several dots from one participant.

There are different ways to indicate the points depending on the tool you use: 

  • use the pencil to indicate an X or I
  • with a special character – e.g. (*)

Afterwards you count the “dots” of each topic. The cards with the most dots have the highest priority.

DotVoting

Silent Estimation Tool: online Whiteboard

Draw a beam on your online whiteboard (from left to right or top to bottom) and label both ends with “TOP PRIO” and “LOW PRIO”. Explain to the participants that the aim is to place the cards on the beam according to their prio. It is important that each card has a clear predecessor and successor.

Then ask the participants to move the cards at the same time according to their self-assessed priority. Important: Participants are not allowed to talk or chat to each other during this exercise. If possible, please play some suitable music. Something that will create a calm and relaxed atmosphere. Encourage the participants to take their time. 

The “game” ends when there has been no movement on the online whiteboard for a certain period of time, that is considered acceptable by everyone.

Silent Estimation

Value Poker Tool: Online Poker (here is a simple tool)

This procedure is very similar to the Estimation Poker method. You go through your list of “things” topic by topic and ask each participant to rate the value (how relevant, important or valuable the “thing” is) using the Fibonacci Scale (e.g. 0-1-2-3-5-8-13-20-40-100). If all participants estimate the same value, you should write this value on the corresponding topic. Otherwise, the participants with the highest and lowest value explain why they came to their estimation. Afterwards there is immediately another round of estimation for the same topic. Repeat the procedure until you find a value you all agree on. This value will also be written down.

When you are done with all the issues, you may address your “things” according to the importance you value.

Close – strengthen the learning experience together

In the last part, you as a team will have the opportunity to reflect on and consolidate the shared experience of your online retro. How did you just do? How confident are you that the steps you have worked out can actually succeed? And of course: How satisfied are you with your retrospective and what do you want to do differently at the next “Online Retro”?

Duration

5 minutes 

Idea

Almost the same exercise as “Pic’ your day” only this time in relation to the online retro which is just finishing.

Material & Tools

Video conference, online whiteboard or chat with image upload functionality

Facilitation guide

Everyone now has 1 minute to search on the Internet for an image that best reflects their perception of the retrospective.

When everyone is ready, the pictures will be uploaded simultaneously or posted in the chat tool. Each person will then tell in a short sentence why he/she had chosen this picture and, if necessary, express a wish for the next retrospective.

Duration

5 to 10 minutes

 

Idea

With this tool you may specifically evaluate different aspects of the retrospective. By using “emotional pictures” (we like to use well-known memes – see download below) the participants comment on individual aspects of their “Online Retro”.

 

Material & Tools

Video conference, online whiteboard with emotional pictures (Download)

 

Facilitation guide 

At the top of the board, from left to right, the 5 mood pictures are arranged (similar to a scale).

Vertically on the left side the dimensions of the evaluation are written on notes (one line per note). For example: tools & technique, method, mood or results.

Each team member then positions a note in each line with his or her name according to their assessment of the topic. It is also possible to make a small statement about the assessment in order to distinguish the feedback.

Duration

4 to 8 minutes

 

Idea

The aim here is to jointly evaluate the effectiveness of the “online retro” measures as a group. The method can be used to make transparent to what extent you as a team have a clear position here, or how far the views of the individual team members differ.

Material & Tools

Online Whiteboard

 

Facilitation guide

You draw a “virtual” room on your online whiteboard. Now explain to the participants that there is an imaginary line in this room, on which the walls in the room are the extremes. So from “Do I share completely” to “I completely don’t see it that way”. Now ask the participants to position themselves on this imaginary line according to the question “How confident are you that the actions from today’s retro will be effective? (Alternatively, you can of course think of other questions). 

The participants now each position a virtual Post-It with their name in the room. Then ask each of the extreme positions to explain why they are standing exactly there. Then the group may give a statement about how they perceive the group positioning.

Raumaufstellung

Duration

2 to 8 minutes

 

Idea

This method is also suitable if there is not much time left at the end of your “online retro”, but you still want to share a short mood picture about the progress of the meeting.

Material & Tools

Chat Tool

 

Facilitation guide

You ask the participants a particular question related to your retrospective. The participants now have a short time (max. one minute, better 30 seconds) to answer this question with exactly one word, if possible from the gut. Here are a few sample questions:

  • How are you doing right now?
  • How satisfied are you with the process/result of our “Online Retro”?
  • What did you like most about our retrospective?
  • What aspects of our retro in “online” mode should we take over “offline”?
  • What should we do differently in the next retrospective?

Ask the participants to enter the “one word” they have found into the group chat (but do not submit it yet). Then count down ” THREE TWO-ONE-SUBMIT” and all post their word at the same time and all together. If there is still time left, you may of course briefly discuss the result as a group at this point..



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