Managing distributed remote teams is an exciting challenge. Well-defined methods, processes, roles, and tools help greatly.
However, these might not always be enough. Everything happens essentially through people. Even while working with high-level specialists who deliver excellent quality, velocity, and trust, we can’t forget we are all human. There will always be opportunities for improvement.
To establish the context, let us take a look at the last principle of the Agile Manifesto: “Reflect and Adjust Your Way of Work to Boost Effectiveness.” Not by coincidence, the Sprint Retrospective is the event that closes the iteration or sprint. It is the moment when the team assembles to inspect its work, evaluate how the sprint went, and then create an action plan with tasks for the next iteration.
Even though the retrospective focuses on continuous improvement and there is no obligation to address any specific matter, it’s essential not to lose sight of what is important. This activity allows you to focus on the people by establishing or reinforcing team rapport, the work processes, and everyday tools. Additionally, the retrospective is not the right time to discuss the product itself: that should happen during the iteration review (sprint review).
So, let’s take a look at some tips for productive and enjoyable remote retrospectives.
1. Set the Stage
The first step for successful remote retrospectives is setting the stage, i.e. removing potential blockers in organizing them.
- Schedule the retro in advance and ensure the entire team is available to participate.
- Allow enough time for the whole team to participate. Plan 60-90 minutes for a two-week iteration (or sprint).
- Evaluate if a single session is enough or if you need to split it into multiple sessions. For example, eight team members in the room is a good number. For larger teams, consider splitting by role, i.e., software development, design/UX.
2. Choose a Retrospective Tool
Running a retrospective with remote teams requires a good collaboration tool. You can do a quick search and find many services which offer free plans like Miro and Retrotool. There are many others, but these two have the following features that are particularly useful:
- Anonymous participation: This feature is always optional but can help promote openness among team members. It encourages the team to express their feelings and opinions by giving them an anonymous channel.
- Ability to hide cards during countdown: Some other tools always display each card’s full content as soon as anyone on the team creates it. For example, suppose the facilitator gave you five minutes to write down the good things that happened in the last iteration. After 30 seconds, you have not written anything yet, but you can read some cards already submitted by someone else on the team. Couldn’t their ideas bias you?
3. Warm-up or Ice-breaker Activities
Sometimes it isn’t necessary to run an ice-breaker. But if you answer yes to either of the questions below, it might be worth spending at least five minutes warming up.
- Is this the first time you are running a retrospective meeting with the team?
- Was a team member shy or uncomfortable during the last retrospective?
4. Check Previous Tasks
If the team didn’t complete most of the tasks established during the previous retrospective, it makes no sense to take additional actions from the current one. Instead, it would help ensure that the team completes the tasks they’ve committed to from the previous retrospective before taking on more activities.
5. Empower Your Retrospectives
Empower your retrospectives by switching the facilitation role within the team members. This is a great way to share ownership and reinforce the idea among your team members that they can and should lead their own continuous improvement path.
6. Iterate Continuously
Escape from the common mistake many agile teams face, not prioritizing retrospective actions as they do product-related tasks. Of course, we cannot compare apples and oranges, but still, we must achieve the iteration goal and continuously deliver value for our clients and products.
Stay tuned for the opportunities that may come up over the iteration, pay proper attention to the retrospectives not only at the end but during the existing iteration, and soon you’ll be reaping valuable insights and benefits from this practice.
This post was published under the Agile Community of Experts. Communities of Experts are specialized groups at Modus that consolidate knowledge, document standards, reduce delivery times for clients, and open up growth opportunities for team members. Learn more about the Modus Community of Experts here.