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How to run a remote retrospective

A sprint retrospective is an Agile/Scrum event held at the end of every sprint. It’s an all-hands-on-deck event that requires everyone involved in the development process to attend. While this takes up time out of the team’s day, the three hours you spend in a retrospective meeting could improve how effectively your team works going forward.

Retrospectives allow teams to look back upon their last project to find the answer to three main questions, “What went right?” “What went wrong?” and “What will we do differently during the next sprint?”

It’s important to look at the past and the future during your retrospectives. Looking at the past and transferring what we learn to how we work in the future can help teams improve every aspect of their work.

By investing time into your teams and asking them to assess their work, you can create groups that guide themselves along the path to improvement. The more retrospectives you hold, the better your team will work, resulting in great products that can take your business to the next level.

Remote retrospectives vs. in-person retrospectives

With the recent and substantial shift to hybrid working, performing a retrospective event is sometimes trickier. Depending on how your team operates, you have two options: In-person retrospectives and remote retrospectives.

As you can probably guess, the difference between in-person and remote retrospectives is where you and your team are during the event. In-person retrospectives involve everyone in the same room, and remote retrospectives use video conferencing software and cloud-based product management platforms (like EasyRetro!)

Running a remote retrospective event can present more obstacles than an in-person event. Agile and sprint methodologies weren’t created with remote working in mind, and we’re only just starting to learn what helps make agile work at a distributed level. Some of these obstacles are easy to get around, while others present permanent challenges for teams.

Communication is a major issue for remote teams. It’s much more challenging to establish a real connection between team members online, which can cause problems when running a retrospective.

Decision-making processes are also a little more complicated. Even a simple decision-making framework such as Dot Voting can be harder to run remotely.

Of course, we can solve most remote retrospective challenges with a little more preparation. Before starting the retro, test your video conferencing software to make sure everyone can hear each other. If any issues occur during testing, you have time to fix problems so the retrospective runs without a hitch.

And using a great cloud-based product management platform, like EasyRetro, helps too! See how using EasyRetro can help teams work better remotely on our blog.

How to run a remote retrospective: 6 tips

Although the thought of running a remote retrospective with a distributed team may have given you nightmares in the past, we hope that this article has changed your mind. Running a retrospective with a distributed team can be fun, so keep experimenting to keep your team engaged and energized. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Figure out the logistics before hosting a remote retrospective

Working with agile methodologies requires a sense of connection and shared ownership among team members. Unfortunately, that can be difficult to maintain when working remotely.

Before heading into a remote retrospective, you need to consider how the meeting will run. Obviously, you’ll need a way of communicating with teammates, but it’s equally important to have a way to record all the ideas you share. During an in-person retrospective, you would typically use a whiteboard, but you need some kind of digital equivalent in a virtual retrospective.

EasyRetro is the perfect platform to run remote retrospectives. It’s a collaborative, cloud-based platform, meaning you can access it anywhere globally, and everyone can share updates. Teams can look back at the sprint and use a range of decision-making frameworks within the platform. Having a product management platform that can help you do what you need to do is one of the best ways to make remote retrospectives work.

When interacting with each other, teams can use a video conferencing tool, but just be sure you test everything to make sure everybody can be seen and heard.

We tend to communicate more effectively when we can see each other’s faces. That’s why it’s a good idea to encourage team members to turn on their cameras. They can be muted when they don’t have anything to say, but leaving their webcam on can make the experience better for everyone. People feel more at ease when they can read facial expressions that help give context to what people are saying. This is especially helpful during a remote retrospective because discussions can get intense.

Agenda

Remote retrospectives tend to offer a different vibe to in-person retros. Performing a retrospective in-person helps increase engagement and makes it easier for whoever is running the meeting to identify anyone that may not be engaging as much as they should be.

Team members sometimes feel like they can’t get their point of view across and stay silent throughout the meeting out of a desire to respect their teammates. This can lead to losing focus on the retrospective.

So, it can help to create an agenda for the retrospective meeting. This helps keep the retrospective flowing because the host has a schedule to follow. It can also help reinforce why team members need to be involved in the retrospective process.

While the general idea is to identify what went right, what went wrong, and how the team will adjust going into the next sprint, you can break the plan down into smaller sections to keep the meeting snappy. Retro facilitators can also pick a theme from our large range of retrospective templates to keep things feeling fresh.

Create an environment of psychological safety

Retrospectives require everyone to get involved and have an equal say. This is a little more difficult when working remotely. Some team members may be working on different schedules due to different time zones or extracurricular commitments. Other team members may not be as outspoken as others and might find it difficult to contribute their point of view. Everyone involved in the project needs to have a voice, especially about future work.

To help facilitate an open conversation, you need to make sure that everyone involved in the remote retrospective feels comfortable sharing honest opinions without the fear of being judged or punished. This all comes down to psychological safety.

It can be helpful to call on individual team members for their opinions. Don’t force everyone to speak if they have nothing to say, but make sure you open up the conversation to everyone. Go around the virtual room and let everyone say what they need to say.

Retrospectives need to be an honest, open discussion that addresses everything required to improve the team’s workflow. At the same time, the retrospective should be blameless when addressing things that went wrong or need improving. Agile is about sharing responsibility, even when things don’t go as planned.

Review the recent past

As you know, how often you run a retrospective depends on how long your sprints are. Most teams tend to have retrospectives bi-weekly or monthly, with a post-mortem or release retrospective at the end of a full project. Some teams will even perform a retrospective on their retrospectives!

You might wonder why some businesses undertake so many reflective meetings. The idea is to offer teams plenty of chances to learn from their actions and build self-organizing teams that are continuously improving the way they work.

Of course, it can be difficult to discuss what happened during a sprint when the team is working remotely. Each team member is less aware of what others are working on, and collaboration is harder. Thankfully, this is an easy obstacle to tackle.

When starting a remote retrospective, dedicate the first part of the meeting to recapping everyone’s work during the sprint. This helps refresh everyone’s memory, keeps everyone in the loop (especially if they’ve missed any daily stand-ups), and gets everyone involved and engaged in the conversation.

It can be helpful to throw out some themes or categories of events to help create some level of continuity from session to session. For example, if bottlenecks are a persistent pain point, check-in on how well the team managed dependencies. This helps prevent future problems and gives the team a chance to feel some positive momentum when they see an area improving over time.

Decide what you’ll take action on before the next retrospective

Retrospectives would be pointless if we looked at what we did and didn’t adjust before heading into the next sprint. Remember, we’re looking to answer those three key questions, including, “What will we do next?”

Throughout the retrospective, the team should be identifying processes that didn’t work well, but simply making a mistake isn’t enough to learn from it. As a team, you need to determine what needs to change going forward.

Try to create goals and a way to measure success. This way, your team has something to work towards and a way to show they have achieved their goals.

Try to avoid being too ambitious here. Small achievable goals work better and are more sustainable over longer periods of time. Ideally, you’ll land on one or two items and give them a lot of attention over the coming weeks.

Reflect on your retrospective

Before the meeting ends, it’s a good idea to have a brief conversation about how everyone thinks the retrospective went. This is one of the main learning tools your team will use, so it can hamper their progress if issues occur during retrospectives.

Remote retrospective anti-patterns to watch for

We have discussed anti-patterns within scrum previously on the EasyRetro blog. The question is, “How do those anti-patterns differ when performing a remote retrospective?”

Canceling retrospectives

Remote work can cause us to shift our perspective a little. A remote retrospective can take up a lot of time, which some may think is better spent working on the project.

But just because there is a lot of work to be done doesn’t mean you need to cancel retros. Sure, you may get a little more work done, but you’re removing the chance for your team to learn and make changes to their workflow. The more opportunities a team has to learn, the more efficient they will be. After a while, the hours sunk into retrospectives can result in consistently faster development from project to project.

No follow-through

Once the remote retrospective is over, your team will end the call and likely return to work. This doesn’t allow them to really focus on what they learned during the retro, and those hard-fought lessons can quickly be forgotten.

To avoid a lack of follow-through, make sure to set those goals for moving forward and keep those goals in focus throughout the next sprint.

Let EasyRetro guide your next remote retrospective

You’ve probably picked up by now that we’re all about making retrospectives, well, easier. It’s our name, after all! We have a great collection of tools to help you ace your next remote retrospective. Use our free meeting agenda tool to keep things on track, try out a few of our retrospective templates, or dive deep into all things retro with our Retrospective Academy!

Remote retrospectives are simpler with EasyRetro. Try our platform for free to find out how!

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