Agile Retrospectives with Remote teams

Retrospectives are a great way for Agile / Scrum teams to improve their way of working. The whole team attends the retrospective meeting, where they “inspect” how the iteration (sprint) has been done, and decide what and how they want to “adapt” their processes to improve. Actions coming out of a retrospective are communicated and done in the next iteration. The retrospective facilitator (often the Scrum master) should have a toolbox of retrospective exercises, and be able to pick the most effective exercises to keep retrospectives interesting and valuable. 

When you are working with an agile team where people are not co-located you still want to do valuable agile retrospectives. As gathering everybody in one location for the retrospective is not feasible, you need to take a different approach. The team members do not need to come together physically, but they need to find a time slot when they can all join the retrospective. They can do the retrospective remotely using collaboration tools, to reflect on their way of working and find ways to improve the way that they work together.

Suitable collaboration tools that remote teams can use are Skype of Hangout, collaborative real-time editors like Google Docs, online collaboration tools like Groupmap or Lino, or specific retrospective tools like Retrium.

How to do remote retrospectives

About a week before the retrospective meeting is scheduled the facilitator selects the questions for the retrospective. These questions are entered into the Google Doc and the document link is shared with all team members before the retrospective.

The Google Doc is used to gather data. The team member can either add their answers to questions before or during the meeting.

The facilitator will setup a group call. If needed by the team then the facilitator will allow time at the start of the meeting to team members time to brainstorm and enter their answers in the document.

When all the answers are added to the document the team can discuss them, build an understanding of the ideas and views of the different team members, and decide which actions are needed. These actions are entered in the same document. The document serves as a report from the retrospective and as an action list, everything is in there where everybody can see it.

Questions for remote retrospectives

Since this retrospective exercise is used by teams which are time and place dispersed there will usually be questions related to working as a remote team, communication using collaboration tools, building relationships while working long distance, etc.

Some sample questions are:

  • What do you like about our team and the way that we work together?
  • What can we do to improve collaboration, communication and co-working in the team?
  • How do you feel about the tools that we are using?
  • Do the tools support collaboration sufficiently?
  • What have you learned working in this dispersed team?
  • If there is one thing that you could change, what would it be?

These questions help remote teams to discuss their way of working and find better ways to collaborate and deliver value to their customers.

Learn how to do remote retrospectives

Agile promotes the usage of retrospectives to help teams to solve problems and improve themselves. Getting actions out of a retrospective that are doable, and getting them done helps teams to learn and improve continuously. The book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives (also available in Vietnamese: Khai thác giá trị Agile Retrospective) provides many useful exercises for your retrospectives.
Ben Linders is an trainer, advisor, author and keynote speaker on agile and lean software development.