In this article we’d like to share our views on the distinct advantages an online retrospective offers over traditional retrospectives for distributed Agile teams, and what to look for in a remote retrospective tool.
Author: Jonathan Holmes, TeleRetro, https://www.teleretro.com/
Retrospectives, also known as Sprint Retrospectives in Scrum, are one of the most enjoyed ceremonies in Agile development. Coming together as a team, sharing one’s thoughts about what could be improved, and seeing improvement is validating and rewarding. Done well, these are fun and engaging sessions. Importantly, they are a critical feedback mechanism for continual improvement.
With remote working thrust upon many of us, retrospectives are as important as ever. And yet, when we can’t physically be in the same place at the same time, the pen and sticky note no longer serve us as they once did.
The problem is even more acute for teams working in a hybrid model, with some team members co-located in an office, and others working remotely.
Moving your retrospectives online brings a host of benefits over traditional physical-board retrospectives. Indeed, many people have been forced to do just this over 2020, but finding the right retro tool can make all the difference.
Enter the Virtual board
It’s our belief that online retrospectives are the best way to conduct retros, no matter your team’s situation. We’d like to outline some of the advantages that a virtual board can bring to your team, and what separates the best tools from the rest.
Here’s our list of key reasons why you should use an online tool for your next retro, and how a tool like TeleRetro can help you.
One pain point for anyone who has participated remotely in a retrospective with a co-located team is the feeling of being a second class participant. This is especially the case for teams using traditional sticky notes. Often, camera resolution or audio quality are too poor to be able to follow along. Furthermore, one’s own suggestions often don’t make it onto the board. As a result many managers insist on mandatory office attendance. For many people today that’s not feasible nor desirable.
By using an online tool, you can ensure that everyone gets a front row seat, whether they are in the office, at home or elsewhere. An online tool can be used by a remote team, an in-person team, or a mixture. The important thing is that no-one is underserved, giving people the option to work from wherever suits them best.
One advantage that an online tool offers is the possibility of anonymous feedback. In a traditional retro, this just isn’t possible, as people are required to leave feedback on a sticky note and place it on a physical board. In an online retro, feedback can be anonymous.
Many teams might think that feedback that isn’t delivered in the open isn’t worth giving. However, we’ve found this isn’t necessarily always the case. Some feedback is sensitive and such that although people are keen to share it with the wider team, for whatever reason feel uncomfortable sharing it in the open. Anonymous feedback makes it much easier to surface this often valuable feedback.
Another advantage is the possibility of new ways of receiving feedback such as collecting feedback throughout a development cycle, as opposed to exclusively during the retro itself, by which time some ideas may be forgotten.
Better action tracking
One of the most common mistakes in a retrospective is to fail to capture useful actions or to fail to implement them. Discussing issues is itself cathartic, but identifying, tracking and completing actions is the secret to ensuring retrospectives bring genuine improvements to a team’s workflow.
We put actions at TeleRetro’s core: to make it simple to log actions, to track them, to review them at subsequent retros, and to export them into tools that you’re already using.
Ease of use
The power of a retrospective comes from discussion between participants. The last thing you want is for the tool itself to frustrate your team or to be sufficiently difficult to use such that it distracts or interferes with your discussion. Any tool you use needs to be simple and easy to use with a user experience your team enjoys.
Online Scrum tools also offer several ways to save time and resources. Traditional retros often require a lot of manual preparation and discipline on the part of the facilitator. Online retros can for example automatically prepare proven retro formats for you, doing away with the need to research or find new formats.
It’s important to set the right tone during a retrospective, to be conducive to open and honest discussion. Something we found in our own experience was how well music can set the tone for a retro, to be played when team members are sharing notes and between discussion points. TeleRetro’s Ice-Breaker feature is designed to do just this – play music or video, where the Facilitator can start or stop it as desired.
This is where the potential for online retrospectives gets really interesting. Each retrospective, teams share their concerns, ideas and suggestions. This is valuable information. Typically, only a small percentage of these notes get remembered or taken action on. At the end of a traditional retro, the team literally throws all this information into the bin! The potential for analytics and cross-team information sharing is huge. TeleRetro currently automatically surfaces key metrics at the end of each retro, but we’ve really just begun exploring the possibilities here, and have a bunch of features underway to surface more insight from this data.
Collaboration is fundamental to how we work, and it should be stressed that the motivation behind using an online retrospective is not to take away from in-person collaboration, but rather to add to it. Technology is now such that it’s possible to get the best of both worlds, remote work and collaboration.
Online retrospectives have already become a necessity for many Agile teams, but no matter your situation, we believe that online retrospectives are the best way to run your retrospective.
At TeleRetro, we are driven by the idea of a future where people have the choice to work collaboratively and efficiently from wherever suits them best. We’d like to help build the tools to make this possible.
Our mission at TeleRetro is to help teams do their best work by focusing on the discussions which matter most, and we’ll take care of the rest: guided collaboration, discussion templates, action tracking, analytics, feedback collection and more. We want to create the most enjoyable retrospective experience possible. We’re passionate about good design and user experience, and are constantly seeking to improve our tool through customer feedback.
We’ve just started work on transforming how retrospectives are done, and we’d love for you to join us. We offer both free and paid plans. Check us out at: www.teleretro.com. Feel free to say hello at: hello [at] teleretro.com.
About the Author
Jonathan Holmes is a consultant at TeleRetro, and has over 15 years of experience in agile software development.
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