A Checklist for a Distributed Retrospective

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More and more agile teams have the problem, that they are not collocated. If you work in a distributed team, you know how difficult it is to stay in contact. It gets even worse, when you have a big time shift between the teams. But in such situations it is even more important to do a team wide retrospective. That’s why I created a checklist for retrospectives in distributed teams. I believe that most of the points also apply to other meetings, like e.g the Sprint Review in Scrum. To facilitate a successful distributed retrospective you need the following:

 

 

A Co-Facilitator
It is very difficult to facilitate two teams, if one of the teams is located 1000km away. It don’t has to be a experienced coach, just somebody who prepares everything off-site and helps facilitating the retrospective.

Laptops
As I suggest to use an online tool for your retrospective, every team member should have access to a laptop. At least two team members should have one laptop to create their virtual post-its.

Beamer
Every team needs a beamer, so that you can show what is happening on the wall.

Network
Make sure that every laptop has network access. If you’re lucky a WLAN is in place, if not you need a switch and enough network cables.

Video conferencing
If available use a video conference system. In my experience it is very important, that everybody can see each other. A face speaks more than a thousand words.

Online Cardboard
As you won’t be able to use a physical cardboard, you need one online. There are several tools out there:

I use corkboard.me as it was updating the screens of the other participants very fast. It is also quite important, that you don’t need to create an account to use the tool. Thanks to Nils Wloka, Pawel Wrzeszcz, Barry O’Reilly, Angeline Tan and Katrin Elster for helping me to collect this list.

Prepare the Online Cardboard
As you would prepare a normal whiteboard or cork board, you also have to prepare your online cardboard. Make sure to search for a nice picture which presents the theme for the upcoming retrospective and that you put the agenda online.

More time for preparation
As you also have to care for the technical stuff and need some time to try if everything is working, the preparation time increases. That’s why it is important to plan for some additional preparation time.

Final thought

If you have all these things in place, there is no real difference to a normal retrospective. You can use nearly all retrospective tools, that are out there. And don’t forget the different phases of every successful retrospective.

Even though a retrospective with a distributed team can work out great, the team should meet in real on a regular basis. If possible the whole team should meet in real every second retrospective. I know that won’t be possible anytime, but it is worth trying. As Jutta Eckstein says: “You will pay for it anyway”. Either you pay for the flights or for less productivity.

16 thoughts on “A Checklist for a Distributed Retrospective”

  1. RE: video conferencing systems, my teams have found a low-tech solution to be plenty effective. We have a virtual telepresence device that is simply a laptop with a good video camera, good microphone and speakers. We use Skype with the multi-user call option so anyone remote can be on that. Remote users can control the laptop with the video, they can move the camera and so on. We can all see and hear each other.

    We’ve also found it helpful to have a backchannel IM going on, in case a remote person misses something but doesn’t want to interrupt the whole meeting to ask – they can ask in the chat.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I really like the idea of having a “virtual telepresence device”. Didn’t you have a photo/article about this device? Would be great if you could share the link here.

  2. Have you seen and used SoCoCo? A virtual office space. When dislocated team members work from that office daily; the perception of distance decreases largely. Retrospectives can then be facilitated easier as everyoned is present in one virtual co-located office.

  3. Hi,
    I’m the scrum master of a distributed team. The team has 12 members, 7 are collocated in Argentina and 5 are distributed in US from california to New York working from home so I have a big challenge here, I’m collocated with the part of the team in Argentina. I got your book “agile retrospectives” and it’s helping me a lot, i still have some trouble trying to make everybody participate, as I am the only one taking notes in an excell spreadsheet. I’ll try the on-line tools you suggests perhaps this way people can participate more. I think the co-facilitator does not apply here since the us part of the team is wfh. Do you have any other suggestion for this particular scenario. Thanks in advance!

    1. I highly recommend to use an online tool for your retrospective. This way everybody is forced to actively contribute. How about using a tool like Skype or Google+ to start a video conference? This will help to get better connected. I especially like the Google+ Hangout functionality. Hope that helps.

    1. Hi Paul

      Thanks for your comment and the experience report you linked to. I really love Kanbanery for Personal Kanban but didn’t tried it in a retrospective until now. I will facilitate a big distributed retrospective in three weeks (U.S. west coast and Germany). Maybe Kanbanery could be helpful here.

  4. One more simple and effective way to achieve a virtual cardboard is just to share a drawing on Google docs.

    Since Google allows for concurrent editing of the document, all the people involved can see in real time what others are adding and, at the same time, make their contribution.

    I find that this generates a lot of cooperation and insights in the distributed group.

  5. Sadly some of the online cardboard links don’t work anymore. And even more sadly, as I was hoping it would help me, corkboard.me is now NoteApp.com and isn’t usable anymore without signing up :(

    It would be great if you could update your blogpost.

  6. We’ve been developing an online tool for agile retrospectives called GroupMap – it goes a bit further than simple online card-walls by allowing folks to brainstorm independently or collaborative, vote and comment on ideas etc. We’d appreciate if you’d like to give it a try (www.groupmap.com/agile-retrospectives) or if you have any thoughts / ideas on making it better!

    Happy retrospecting! Brad

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