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The State of Agility – Remote Retrospectives

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The State of Agility is an 8-week blog series
from the Centare agile practice.

The team retrospective is one of the most important meetings at the conclusion of a sprint in the scrum cycle. It allows the team to provide that critical feedback on went well or not well during the sprint, allowing the team to adapt and improve. This often includes exercises like posting sticky notes on a board or brainstorming ideas. However, these exercises get more difficult when some or all of the team are not physically in the same location. So what to do? Using the phone along seems archaic by today’s technology standards, as it eliminates visual feedback. Phone conversations alone also tend to stifle the voices of the remote team members, due to the inability to closely follow a conversation and pick up on non-verbal signals from others. Here’s four simple ways to empower the remote users and give everyone an equal voice:

Use a Video-Based Hangout

Using a tool like Google Hangouts or Lync with the video enabled will allow everyone to see each other and keep everyone engaged. Other features like screen sharing and chats are a plus, but video the most beneficial.

Use an Online Tool for the “Post-it Board”

People who are remote often don’t participate if they have to send their comments to someone else to put up on the whiteboard. A great tool to prevent this problem this is Trello. While it’s designed as a task management / kanban board, it works well as a mechanism for people to post cards and then organize them according to thoughts. It also allows a simple way to vote on options or record thoughts as the contribute feedback.

Use an Electronic Polling Tool

Many times people who are remote are not vocal enough to voice opposition if the main group does not agree. Using electronic polling tools built into tools like Google Hangouts or Lync allow those people to have an equal, anonymous voice. An excellent example of a poll like this called a “safety check”. I saw it first suggested by Peter Green at Agile 2013. It allows people to rate how safe they feel providing feedback in a retrospective and it’s an excellent tool if your team has underlying interaction issues. A basic check is done where 1 is completely unsafe and 5 is completely safe. If anyone votes a 2 or below, consider cancelling the retrospective and investigate team workings further. If anyone is lower than a 4, make sure to discuss how you can make the meeting open and honest. One suggestion would be to make sure comments are directed at a problem and not individuals, and include a solution. These conversations are easier to have though if the initial vote is anonymous.

Limit your Activity Blocks

When people are remote, their average attention span is about 8 minutes. So keep mixing things up with breaks, check-ins and smaller group chats to keep everyone engaged. Try these during your next remote retrospect! These simple ideas drastically improved our retrospectives and I’m sure they’ll do the same for you.

Dan is a consultant for the Centare where he passionately advocates agile principles and the use of patterns & practices assets to clients and internal groups. Having 13 years of experience in the software industry, Dan has architected world class enterprise applications in the transportation, insurance, and healthcare industries. He has been a Microsoft Patterns and Practices Champion since 2008 and an advisor on projects including Unity, Enterprise Library, Prism, Acceptance Testing, and CQRS. His latest endeavors involve guidance for development teams on continuous deployment and promoting best practices for the latest Microsoft Web and Azure technologies.

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