Recently I have been working with teams that are half in the UK and half in Poland. The purpose of this post is not to debate the merits behind co-location versus distributed as I am pretty sure anyone would choose to be co-located if they had the choice. The purpose of this post is to share my experiences and things I have found helpful if you are in that situation. I think it is worth remembering that as a ScrumMaster or Agile Coach sometimes the choice around co-location isn’t yours and you have to work with the bounds or parameters that your organisation has (at least in the short term).
Anyone who has read my previous posts will know that I am not a huge fan of tools but the tools for remote retrospectives are improving, they still aren’t as good as having people in the room and also limit the format options you have but their maturity is evolving.
My first remote retro I ever ran was using Skype for business white board. It was quite clunky but did allow you to draw and let people contribute. Recently I’ve been using FunRetro’s free tool which has been really well received. It does limit your options somewhat but does allow you to be creative with your “column” headings. Its also incredibly simple to use and all people need is the link and a device. We usually start up a Slack call to discuss whilst people collaborate on the board. FunRetro have launched a paid for version and if I am honest I cannot see the incentive to upgrade just yet but I’m sure if the product keeps evolving.
There are a few other tools out there which are listed below. As I said earlier the options and market are certainly evolving to help with remote retrospectives.
As mentioned earlier usually a slack call is started and this is the absolute minimum. However I’ve found that utilising video chat helps with the engagement in the room. Even if its is just a webcam for each room on the call seeing people really helps with the engagement between the participants.
In my recent experiences the remote retro’s have contained people from the UK and Poland and whilst the Polish members of the team speak very good English I have found allowing them some extra time than I would normally to discuss and understand anything posted on the retro helps. Not much more, maybe if i was doing an exercise to capture “what went well” if I planned for 3 minutes I may allow 4 or 5 minutes instead.
Get a Room
I find it easier to book a room at either end and get people into those rooms rather than sitting at their desks and dialling in. At people’s desks they have far too many distractions or background noise to focus on the retrospective properly.
These are my experiences but would love to hear from others in the comments of their experiences, tips or favourite tools.
I recently tried a new retro format with the team i am currently working with, i called it the 4 H’s retro. Now i won’t try and claim for a minute this is anything groundbreaking or new as it borrows heavily from the 4 L’s expect i wanted to come at things from a slightly different perspective. The team i work with currently had recently done a review of our sprint ceremonies and one thing that was mentioned was that we focused on the negative stuff too much/too quickly. I therefore wanted to move away from the 4 L’s to some more positive themed categories and came up with the following:
- Hero – Who was your hero in the last sprint/iteration? Who went above and beyond for the team?
- Help – Looking back what help do you wish you had during the last sprint? What impact would it have had?
- Happy – What was the one thing that made you go home to friends or family saying you’d had a great day at work?
- Hope – What is the one thing you hope for in the next sprint/iteration that you or team don’t currently have?
To prepare for the retro i prepared 4 different coloured cards with the 4 H’s on each one along with a sharpie. We did this retro at a team breakfast to try something different so using post-it notes was fine. I gave the team 3 minutes to write down their thoughts for each section with a brief 3-5 mins discussion about each area afterwards. Each team member was encouraged to read them out aloud to the team.
After this we split the team into 3 groups of 3 and based on what we’d heard throughout the retro they were tasked with coming up with the most important action they could take forward. We then discussed the actions and refined them to make sure they were clear and achievable.
It seemed to work really well and the discussion that was generated was certainly of a different tone than our previous retro’s, although maybe the breakfast was the real reason everyone was happy (it was very good!)
Yesterday I did something I have never done before in my 5 years or so as a scrum master…. I held a retrospective outside! My current team are based right in the center of London and are lucky enough to have a park right outside of the building. Yesterday was one of the handful of lovely sunny days we get in a British Summer so I made the suggestion we go outside. Here are some pictures
The team seemed to really respond to being outside and a very open and honest conversation about the team and the sprint they had just completed was had. The format of the retro was
- Intro – Movie review the sprint
- Gather Insights – 4 L’s – Liked, Lacked, Learned, Longed For
- Decide what to do – Actions were gathered as we discussed the 4 L’s and were summarised and evaluated as to whether they can be achieved in a sprint
- Closing – Thanked the team for their attendance and promised to buy them an ice cream next time we do a retro in the sun!
A couple of things I noted for the outside retro that you may want to consider
- London is noisy! We had Ambulances, cars, lorries and all sorts making noise during the retro which meant that sometimes it was hard to hear
- We had a dog who kept coming over for us to throw its ball to him, note: throw a ball once and a dog will always come back to you!
- Ensure you have something to stick post-its or cards to to take back, i had a notebook i captured all of the output onto so i could summarise when back in the office
I have recently started working with a team that i haven’t worked with before and to get an insight into how they have operated previously, what have they achieved in the past year and what they hope to achieve in the new year i held a Christmas Carol Retrospective.
My main stream of work is as a contract scrum master which means i tend to spend varying amount of times with clients and teams. Most of these usually involve some kind of handover from or to a new scrum master at some point. In fact just this week I have started a handover with one of the teams I currently work with to a fellow scrum master who is a permie where my current contract is as i start to work with a brand new team. This got me thinking as to what does or doesn’t help when it comes to handovers and whether there are any areas I could improve on.
Being from the “correct” side of the pond, thanksgiving isn’t a holiday I’ve ever celebrated but today being Thanksgiving in the USA it made me think what am I thankful for in my agile journey. I’ve used the giving thanks warm-up numerous times in a retrospective but never truly thought of the people who have helped me in my journey as a Scrum Master. Continue reading
Pineapples aren’t something I am overly fond of, whether it be on their own or heaven forbid on a pizza! The latter being an age old debate that I have found to split near enough every team I have worked in. However, pineapples are something i find very useful when working with Scrum teams.
Recently the team I am scrum master of had some tasks that were identified retrospectively that should have been tackled sooner in the sprint to have allowed the team to swarm more effectively on the story. To remedy this I printed and laminated a series of pineapples and encouraged the team to use them to highlight anything that if we sit on for too long will hurt us. Since introducing this the team are visualizing potential pain points and are being discussed more frequently, whenever these are present the team are now saying “who’s going to tackle the pineapple”. I find it a light hearted way to deal with an issue and helps the team self-organise around the tasks in their sprint. let me know in the comments if you have used anything similar.
I first read of this technique via LinkedIn from an ex-colleague a while back but cannot find the original source, if anyone reading this knows of this please let me know as i would like to credit them.
Yesterday i tried a new retrospective technique with the team i am scrum mastering. The inspiration came from here (thanks guys at Fun Retrospectives).
Its called the Hot Air Balloon and encourages the team to look back as well as forward. It also gives me a chance to try and improve my dreadful drawing skills (yes that picture has been drawn by a 31 year old man and not a child!)
I was recently asked by another Scrum Master to facilitate a retrospective for his team as he wanted to take part. The team were looking back over their Alpha phase of their development which was 10 weeks or so long.
As you would expect a lot of items came up during the retrospective as the team were looking back across quite a large period of time. One thing that was quite interesting was that some members of the team felt in their sprint retrospectives that they weren’t given the chance to voice their opinions as the retro’s very quickly became very tech heavy and in-depth (the team have faced a lot of technical challenges during this phase). This left the non developers on the team feeling like they were not really included in the conversation and lead to some discontent and bad feeling, which as anyone will tell you is not fantastic for team morale and productivity.
Recently I’ve been working on a greenfield project for a CMS website to replace a temporary site that was thrown together quite quickly. As part of this we held a discovery phase which enabled the team to establish user need, some very high-level technology explorations and create a backlog to estimate cost and size. The next stage of the project was to start building something which meant we needed to take our backlog and estimate it.