Sprint Retrospective Exercise for Remote Scrum Teams
Digital Retrospective Board Featured Image

Sprint Retrospective Exercise for Remote Scrum Teams

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Are you having difficulty facilitating sprint retrospectives because you have remote team members? We have developed a Digital Retrospective Board that may help. For those unfamiliar with Agile, a retrospective is one of  12 principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto,  more specifically:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

At Drive Current, we’ve been using a collaborative retrospective technique with our local scrum teams for years. This traditional whiteboard exercise was adapted from the book Agile Coaching by Rachel Davies. It encourages the team to reflect on positive, neutral and stressful events during the sprint and emerge with an actionable task to iteratively improve the team, company or product over the next sprint cycle.

After attending Diana Larsen’s Advanced Agile Retrospectives seminar in San Diego last week, I have an in-depth understanding of the fundamental requirements of any retrospective exercise.  Every retro should include a 5 step plan for organizing and facilitating the exercise as outlined in the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. The 5 steps are:

  1. Set the Stage
  2. Gather Data
  3. Generate Insights
  4. Decide What to Do
  5. Close the Retrospective

In order to keep our retrospective alive, we needed to figure out a way to involve our valuable team members in Salt Lake City, UT (our HQ is in San Diego).  We tried conducting the exercise over video conference alone, but it lacked the in-person interaction that a physical whiteboard and stack of sticky notes provides. In response, our Digital Retrospective Board was born (in the form of a shared Google Drawing). You can view it here:

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1vICrnlFBAeMXSJDbH6A5I_n7CuZ_jZnUYSsJBDGhgYA/edit?usp=sharing

I encourage you to make a copy of the drawing and use it at your next retro (Google account required). Below, each step is broken down to help you and your remote team members emerge from the retro with an actionable task, or “Now Action.” Allocate at least 90 minutes for your first attempt, after which you can likely reduce the time to 60-75 minutes. Here’s the plan:

  1. Set the Stage (<10 minutes)
    1. Schedule a recurring meeting for your Sprint Retrospective that falls shortly after your Sprint Review.
    2. Make sure all team members have a decent web camera and headset, allowing them to contribute to the retrospective over video-conference. Consider gathering local team members together in conference room with video-conferencing equipment and a projector or other large display connected to a computer with a web browser (you will want all team members to use a PC or laptop to manipulate the Google drawing).
    3. Make sure you have a clean Digital Retrospective Board ready and shared with all team members before the start of the meeting.
    4. Start each Sprint Retrospective meeting by reviewing the last Retrospective “Now Action” and discussing the resolution.
  2. Gather Data (15-20 minutes)

    1. Ask each scrum team member to type positive, neutral or stressful moments onto a virtual comment card (sticky note) and position it on the day it occurred during the sprint. If the issue was constant throughout the sprint, place the note in the ‘Throughout’ section of the board.
    2. There will be a lot visual activity happening as your team members begin filling out the comment cards and copying & pasting them all over the board. Positive in green, neutral in yellow and stressful in red/pink. Give each team member ample time to add as many comment cards as needed until there is no more visible activity.
  3. Generate Insight (15-20 minutes)

    1. Beginning from left to right, review each comment card on the board. After reading each card, ask the team member if they would like to explain their comment further. Do the same for comment cards in the ‘Throughout’ section. This will facilitate conversation but be careful to avoid discussing solutions just yet.
    2. Group related comment cards together.
  4. Decide What To Do (30 minutes)

    1. Instruct all your team members to vote for the comment card, or group of comment cards, they wish to address. Allow each team member 3 votes. Each person votes by copying and pasting the voting icon (located on the right side of the board) and placing it on the comment they wish to take action on.
    2. Team members can split their 3 votes across multiple comments or use them all on one comment. Conduct the voting in a round-robin fashion to avoid any one person from influencing the vote.
    3. Count the votes and declare a winner.
    4. Ask the team to identify a long term goal that they would like to achieve related to the winning comment. This is a collaborative process that you talk through together as a team (see sample).
    5. Ask each team member to provide Now Actions. A Now Action is something that can be accomplished within the next sprint to help the team to progress toward, or achieve, the long term goal.
    6. Read the list of Now Actions. Ask each team member if they would like to explain their Now Action further and group together any related Now Actions.
    7. Vote on the winning Now Action. Each team member gets only 1 vote. Start at the top and ask, “Who wants to vote for this action?” In the case of a tie, re-vote on the top remaining Now Actions.
    8. Declare the winner and ask “Who commits to making the Now Action happen?”
  5. Close the Retrospective (<10 minutes)

    1. Record the Now Action and responsible team member(s) in a spreadsheet or write up a user story to address it during the next sprint.

You may find working with the Google Drawing a little intimidating at first. It’s clearly not the most robust drawing tool on the market, but the features it lacks are made up for by your ability to collaborate LIVE with your team members. The drawing, combined with videoconferencing, is the closest thing to face-to-face interaction we’ve been able to accomplish with our remote retrospectives.  Hang in there, after one or two of these retro sessions your team will have mastered the board and crank through the exercise with ease.

Below is an example of a completed Digital Retrospective Board:

Click to view full image.

Click to view full image.

If you’ve found this information helpful, please share with your fellow Agile Evangelists. Thank You!

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