The retrospective is a very important moment for a team that works with Agile methods, such as Scrum, Kanban or eXtreme Programming. At Mia-Platform, each team periodically organizes its own retrospective and at the end of a project.
In this historic moment in which many of us are working remotely, one of our teams managed not to miss this precious opportunity to reflect and, indeed, to make it even more useful by involving people and bringing out new ideas and proposals.
Therefore, we interviewed Federico Maggi, a Mia-Platform Scrum Master, and he showed us how he made his team’s retrospective easier, the tools he used, and the poetic licenses he adopted in comparison with the classic retrospective.
Federico has developed a convenient template on Google Sheets that has allowed him to make everyone participate, to guide the retrospective, and to bring out new proposals and actions to be taken.
In this article we will tell you in detail which are the steps to follow which facilitate a remote retrospective, and how to use the tool created by Federico.
Then, we will tell you about our direct experience hoping that it will be an inspiration for your team.
To begin, click here to download the Excel version template in which you will be able to find some examples. Then, we recommend you to open it with Google Sheets or with any other tool that allows you to work on it and share it with your team. We used Google Sheets on our shared drive.
To set up our retrospective and to write this article, we took inspiration from the book Agile Retrospective, making good teams great, of which you can find the references at the bottom of the page.
What is a retrospective?
Before going into further detail about our tool, we would like to say a few words about what a retrospective is. It is a particular meeting in which the team can reflect in a guided way on the progress of a specific project - or its work in general - over a given period of time. Retrospectives enable change: the interruption of actions that do not bring benefits and the generation of virtuous behavior.
The twelfth principle of the Agile Manifesto refers precisely to this and states: " At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”.
1. Set the stage, that is: how to prepare the ground and allow everyone to interact
In a normal and live retrospective, it is important that everyone feels comfortable to interact. In a remote retrospective, it becomes even more important to find ways to involve everyone and quickly enter into reflection.
We have used the one word method: describe how the project went in one word. There are no strict rules, except being able to really express in one word and avoid - for the Scrum Master - somehow suggesting participants to express concepts related to emotional states.
Giving space to everyone from the very beginning enables greater sharing in the following steps.
Thanks to this way of check-in the retrospective, everyone can express their opinion in a concise way and therefore make their own contribution to the success of the reflection.
This first phase can last no more than 5 minutes but has great value. Those with little experience with retrospectives tend to skip this step to go straight to the point. For fear of wasting time, we risk losing it in the following phases: people who are not involved from the first moment tend not to contribute at all in the following phases and then lose focus. Therefore, the advice is not to skip this step and to dedicate the necessary time to it.
Here is an example of the first phase with the one word method:
2. Gather Data, that is: let's get to the heart of how the project went
There are several ways to guide this moment of the retrospective. Some aim to bring out the aspects that have generated the most complexity, others tend to bring out new proposals and actions that have been positive and that can be replicated.
Since we are working remotely, this time we decided to choose a method that rewarded the positive aspects, that is known as Start, Continue, Stop, that is a variation of the Starfish and, as you can see from the template, has two columns out of three dedicated to the positive aspects.
Start: what can we start doing to improve?
Continue: what have we appreciated? What can we keep doing to hold our work good?
Stop: what is not bringing value? What can we stop doing?
The Start, Continue, Stop is a variation of a richer activity called Starfish, in which there are 5 areas (divided by the points of the starfish), each of them dedicated to: start, continue, stop, do less and do more. Traditionally, the star is drawn on the blackboard and everyone can write his/her thoughts for each area on a post-it note. You can freely fill in the blackboard: you can put more than one post-it for a single area and none for the other columns available. The next step is the Dot Voting: each person has 3 dots (votes) available to assign to the topics that he/she agrees more with.
How do you turn this phase into a remote retrospective?
In our case, the Scrum Master took care of writing in each column what people working remotely wanted to share and the moment of Dot Voting took place simultaneously, without the limit of 3 votes. Once the first reflection of a colleague was written, the others could share their +1 that the Scrum Master would have collected in the side column dedicated to the votes.
The Dot Voting method, in whatever form it is applied, has the function to prioritize the reflections that have emerged. In a one-hour retrospective, it is necessary to give priority to the aspects that need to be explored, to avoid being chaotic and finishing without clear improvement actions to undertake.
3. Generate Insights: make sense of things
Since we had to adapt to the remote retrospective and we had a limited time, we actually skipped this step and went straight to the next one.
We can therefore evaluate to avoid this passage. However remember not to lose its value by managing the discussion in the previous and following phases. In the Gather Data phase, for example, we gave more space to the explanation of each point that came up, avoiding as much as possible the waste of time; in the Decide what to do step, people were interviewed to find improvement actions, always opening targeted and non-dispersive discussions.
If instead you have time and a way to put this phase in your remote retrospective, or you want to experiment it in the next live retrospective, one of the techniques you can use is “Five Whys”, which allows you to deepen the reasons that led to a certain action and therefore facilitates to get an improvement plan.
An example of this exercise is well reported in the book Agile Retrospective, making good teams great.
Let’s consider the issue in which the review meeting is late as an example:
Q1: Why did we start our review meeting late on Thursday?
A: Because the room was busy
Q2: Why wasn't the room available?
A: Because we forgot to book it
Q3: Why did we forget to book it?
A: Because Charlie was at home sick and he usually books the room
Q4: Why does only Charlie book the room?
A: Because we didn't think it was an important issue
Q5: Why did we think it wasn't important to reserve the room for the meeting?
A: Because we didn't understand how long we would have wasted otherwise, but now we do. We can add this to our checklist to get ready for the review.
4. Decide what to do, that is: improvement actions, reference people and deadlines
We discussed and confronted each other, now what? At this point it becomes essential to create a small plan of actions, assign each action to a person - who can take responsibility for it - and agree on a deadline.
Actions must be reasoned on the basis of the priority reflections that have been discussed, and it is important that they have a contact person.
5. Close the retrospective, that is: was it useful?
The time has come to close and in a real retrospective the moment of the Retrospective of Retrospectives (RoR for short) cannot be missed.
We have chosen to use the ROTI (return on time invested) and therefore to rate the value of the time we have invested in making the retrospective. Did we lose time? Or will the time we have devoted to this reflection make the future work easier? In the file we can rate and see the graph updated in real-time.
This will allow those who facilitate the retrospective to experiment with different methods next time.
Conclusions and recommended books
Our remote retrospective experiment worked well with a team of seven and a Scrum Master. Since we have guided it with the Start, Continue, Stop method it has also made it possible to bring out the proactive side of each one - a very important aspect at a time when you are forced to work remotely.
Despite the help of the tools available, the face-to-face comparison is usually more effective and allows you to better investigate even the most critical aspects while limiting the risk of misunderstandings.
The sixth principle of the Agile Manifesto states in fact: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”.
A reading that can certainly help you build your retrospective, whether remotely or face-to-face - and that has also inspired us for writing this article - is Esther Derby's Agile Retrospective, making good teams great.
Have you already organized a remote retrospective? How did it go? If you will do it thanks to this article, let us know if it has been useful and if you have used our Excel.