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Improving Distributed Retrospectives

by Chris Sims on Nov 02, 2009 |

Many consider the retrospective to be an agile team’s most powerful tool for continuous improvement. The retrospective captures learning and insights while experiences are fresh, and the lessons are immediately applied to the teams on-going work. A discussion on the Retrospectives Yahoo Group examined how to adapt a retrospective to work across multiple sites, with a distributed team.

Miriam started the conversation by describing the challenges of holding a retrospective where the team is split between 2 different locations. Despite using Google docs and telephone conferencing, the conversation wasn't flowing. Ben Linders shared that his experience was similar: people are not as likely to speak up when they can't see each other.

Andreas Ebbert-Karroum has addressed this issue by using video cameras so that participants can see the people at the other end of the connection. He augments this with additional technology aids including whiteboards that can self-scan so that the contents can be easily shared.

Laurie Ann Silberman uses multiple conference lines to allow break-out sessions during retrospectives:

The small groups discuss some aspect of your retrospective discussion. Then after the designated time everyone reconvenes and then each team does a report out...
...The majority of our retrospectives use a pre-survey and frequently the breakouts are used to harvest key messages from the output. They also can be used to create a initial draft of the chosen action plans.

Mark Kilby added that a multi-site retrospective should have facilitators at each site.

They don't all have to be experienced facilitators, but they just need to pay attention to keeping 'all the voices in the (virtual) room' and watching all the body language in the room where they are located and give the main facilitator a heads up.

He also prefers having multiple facilitators so that one can be dealing with technical issues while the other is keeping the people moving along.

Don Farley described how he works a timeline exercise across multiple sites, using Visio to create the master timeline:

...we go through the normal timeline exercise, and have all the participants write down on cards or stickies significant events to them, both positivie and negative, business and personal, and also when people came and left the project. At each location we then have on person designated as the 'reader' who collects the cards and reads them, verbatim so the technographer can add them to the Visio diagram. We alternate reading from one location to another until we've gone through all the events from everyone. Then we usually take a 15 min. break, and the technographer emails the Visio diagram to the other locations so they can print it out if they want to.

How does your distributed team do retrospectives? Leave a comment and share your insights, tips, or struggles.

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Tools I've used by Gerry Kirk

I used to facilitate distributed retrospectives. My favourite tools are:

1. Linoit.com - a canvas tool where team can create stickies collaboratively in real-time. Have used for timeline exercises, creating smart goals, etc.
2. Google spreadsheet - dots voting by creating a form with all of the options, tell people how many votes they have and allocate accordingly. Then add up the results and discuss as a group.
3. Mindmeister.com - real-time mind map collaboration. Create branches like Keep Doing, Stop Doing, More Of, Less Of.

Re: Tools I've used by Raazi Konkader

The Company I work for has telepresence setup recently. While we have not used it yet for a retro, it certainly seems the right tool to use for distributed scrums.

Being able to see each other changes the dynamic completely. Certainly a good one to leverage if one has access to it.

Online tool for Agile Retrospectives by Brad Ward

Hi - I've been working on an online tool for Agile Retrospectives called GroupMap... It goes a bit further than existing online solutions by helping folks brainstorming retrospective ideas both independently and collaboratively, use dot voting to decide the best ideas, comment / discuss and finally pull out actions. Appreciate if you'd like to check it out! www.groupmap.com/agile-retrospectives

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