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!)
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.
Like with many answers to questions relating to Scrum the answer is “there is no right answer”. Numerous factors can dictate what is best for a team but this will change from team to team.
In my personal experience I’ve found that starting on a Wednesday is best. Why? Well first of all being based in the UK there are a few bank holidays on Monday through the year and I find that starting on a Monday and having to shift quite a few around is far from ideal. I’ve also found that devs (and humans in general!) don’t like Monday mornings and sprint planning is a vital part of the SCRUM process and have found that not having team members fully engaged (regardless of the date and time you do it) is a recipe for a sprint to not succeed.