BONUS: Module 2, Retrospectives Master Class with David Horowitz

This is the second of a multi-part series on Agile Retrospectives with David Horowitz who’s the CEO of Retrium, a company that builds tools to help you facilitate remote retrospectives. The links to Retrium’s Retrospectives Academy below are affiliate links, if you prefer to follow a link that takes you to Retrium’s site, but does not give anything back to the podcast, you can. Just follow this link: Retrium.com. On the other hand, if you want to help us grow this podcast, you can follow the links below or this link to Retrium’s Retrospective’s Academy.

In the second instalment of the Agile Retrospectives Masterclass with David Horowitz, we talk about the 5 phases of a successful retrospective, and share tips and ideas for each of those phases to ensure you are prepared and get the team to find and act on breakthrough improvements. 

You can find Module 1 of the Retrospectives Master Class here

It all starts with a simple check-in: “Set the Stage”, Phase 1 of a successful retrospective

When we start a retrospective, usually at the end of a Sprint, the team member’s minds might be on that last bug they just closed, or the story that didn’t get delivered, or the feedback they just got from stakeholders. The Check-in phase of the retrospectives helps all the team members, and the facilitator to get into the retrospective mood. To forget the open threads that will need to be picked up later, and focus on the question: “How can we do even better in the next Sprint?”

In this segment, we talk about the Constellations exercise that helps everyone visualize agreement and disagreement with a specific statement in a way that raises engagement, and increases the energy level of the retrospective. You can find here a detailed description of the Constellation exercise for Agile Retrospectives

We also discuss the “one-word check-in” exercise and the “Mad/Sad/Glad” check-in for Agile retrospectives.  

For retrospectives that try to focus on improving collaboration between team members, David suggests The Circle Of Appreciation exercise

In this segment, we also refer to the classic book: Agile Retrospectives by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby

Gathering Data and Generating Insights, the core of an Agile Retrospective

If we want to enable deeper conversations, we need to be aware that the information that is shared will directly affect the quality of the conversations. Therefore, Agile Retrospectives require special attention to the “gathering data” phase. There are many ways to gather data, and some might even happen during the Sprint, instead of during the retrospective. 

During the retrospective, however, we will visualize that data and help the team make sense of it. 

In this segment, we talk about the timeline exercise, and how to use emotional-queues to help uncover important pieces of information. 

Soft or qualitative data can also be used to augment the use of other data in the timeline exercise. One such way is to use the “journey lines” exercise.

When the data is visible and understandable, then the team focuses on finding insights by analyzing the data and generating possible connections and causal links. Here the challenge for a Scrum Master is to prevent the team from jumping too early into solutions before they deeply understand the problem they are trying to solve. 

David shares some tips to help prevent the team from discussing solutions before they have a shared understanding of the problem. We talk about The 5 Why’s technique, but there are many more. 

Making Retrospectives Impactful: Deciding what to do

Many teams fail in Phase 4, Deciding what to do. But they might fail in quite different ways. For example, some teams might want to commit to too many items at once, while other teams might not commit to any improvement. And finally, the worst problem: those teams that commit to improvements, but work on none of them. 

Great teams, understand well how many improvements they can take from a retrospective, and are clear on the commitment, maybe even including the improvement ideas as items on their Sprint backlog. 

In this segment, we talk about the ICE method for prioritizing improvement ideas and the importance of brainstorming several solutions before deciding what to do. It’s also important to use methods of consensus generation when there are several options that seem equally valuable. The commitment of each team member to the solution to be tried will directly impact their commitment to the work to be done for that solution. 

In this segment, we talk about experiments and the use of such templates as the Hypothesis-Driven Development template by Barry O’Reilly

Phase 5: Close the retrospective

At the end of the retrospective, our goals are to provide closure, a sense of achievement, and energy for the work ahead. 

How can we do that? In this segment, we talk about the “retro on the retro” and the “gif check-out”. Two simple approaches that help the team feel a sense of accomplishment, and also get better at doing future retrospectives. 

Which closing exercises have you used? Share those with us on Twitter or LinkedIn

About David Horowitz

David Horowitz is the CEO of Retrium, a platform for agile retrospectives that has powered over 100,000 retrospectives from thousands of companies across the world.

Prior to co-founding Retrium, David spent a decade at The World Bank as an engineer turned Agile coach.

He has degrees in Computer Science and Economics from The University of Maryland and a Master’s Degree in Technology Management from The Wharton School of Business.

Learn more about Better Retrospectives with David Horowitz by accessing the FREE Retrospective’s Academy by Retrium: http://bit.ly/retromasterclass

You can link with David Horowitz on LinkedIn and connect with David Horowitz on Twitter

BONUS: Agile Retrospectives Masterclass, PART 1 with David Horowitz

This is the first of a multi-part series on Agile Retrospectives with David Horowitz who’s the CEO of Retrium, a company that builds tools to help you facilitate remote retrospectives. The links to Retrium’s Retrospectives Academy below are affiliate links, if you prefer to follow a link that takes you to Retrium’s site, but does not give anything back to the podcast, you can. Just follow this link: Retrium.com. On the other hand, if you want to help us grow this podcast, you can follow the links below or this link to Retrium’s Retrospective’s Academy.

In the first installment of the Agile Retrospectives Masterclass with David Horowitz, we talk about the basic setup for a successful retrospective. It all starts with what David calls the triangle of success: People, Process/facilitation, and Follow-through.

How to set up your Agile Retrospectives for success with the right people

Continue reading BONUS: Agile Retrospectives Masterclass, PART 1 with David Horowitz

How to coordinate #remote teams (and improve collaboration in #covid19 times)

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We started a survey to collect your biggest challenges when it comes to transitioning to remote work. You can submit your answers here.

From that survey, the early results are conclusive, one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now is to help your teams coordinate their work, and collaborate effectively after transitioning to #Remote work.

So, to help you adapt to this new #Remote work reality, we collected the following strategies and tools for helping #Remote teams coordinate and collaborate effectively.

Scrum is #Remote ready, especially this one tool…

Read on for the full list…

Continue reading How to coordinate #remote teams (and improve collaboration in #covid19 times)

Working from home with Kids: Our #Remote work journey continues

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Many of us have started to work from home while our children are also at home, which presents additional challenges. Here’s a collected list of tips from our listeners on Twitter. You are not alone! Many others like you are working from home with kids!

Stay calm, be empathic with your colleagues

One of the most important rules when working from home is to respect each other, we are all in the same situation, we are all getting started in our #Remote work journey. A simple practice that will help you with this is to tell your self: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.” Yes! It will, sometimes, get messy. But it will also improve over time.

Be understanding with your colleagues, give the example and say also to them at the start of your next call: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.”

Use your mute button generously, but accept when the noise comes from the other side! Have a post-it ready to remind your colleagues they are not on mute. Be kind, though 🙂  

Pay attention to your children. You’ve gained time, give it to them

Our previous Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast guest and listener Bola Adesope reminds us that we have gained time by not having to commute. It’s only fair that you dedicate that time to your children. You will all benefit. In Bola’s own words:

Sotiris adds:

Talk to your partner/spouse. Agree on how you will help each other

Many of you are working from home with your spouse or partner. You are probably both in the same situation, so talk early about how to handle the situation.

Daniel suggests ~2 hours shifts, talk about it, and agree on what would work for you.

Another tip is to share your work meetings calendar with your spouse/partner and try to help each other. You may try to book meetings when one of the adults in the house is not having another meeting (if possible).

In any case, don’t forget: be empathic with your spouse/partner too! You are both going through the same experience.

Anna has a slightly different approach, she suggests short bursts (more likely to work with smaller children), it’s a bit like the famous Pomodoro technique (which some already call Mozarella technique because “Pomodoro” apparently have been trademarked 🤷🏻‍♂️)

Adjust your expectations, but know that you are learning and improving as you go

Rene reminds us:

Remember, this is what being empathic towards others and yourself means! However, you are an Agilist! You also know that you will be adapting and improving over time. Stay with it.

Create a routine of reflection, individually and with your partner/spouse. And if your kids are old enough include them in that reflection. They will benefit from your example and will learn to be deliberate about reflecting and adapting to novel situations in their lives.

Help your children learn and practice skills at home, it’s a win/win!

The final tip comes from Paul:


Do your children already want to practice a skill? Maybe playing the piano or guitar? Or learn how to draw? Help them out. Buy them an internet course, and let them practice. Those skills will be beneficial immediately for you, and in the future for them! It’s a win/win!

What other techniques and approaches have worked for you? Share your learnings below in the comments!

Stay healthy, #stayhome and enjoy your children!

5 Tips for those starting their #Remote work journey

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected

Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues

When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.

So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).

Here are the rules I follow:

  1. Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
  2. If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
  3. Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues

My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.

Have breaks!

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.

In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).

I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.

Create a routine

I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).

After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.

I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.

Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.

That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?

Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)

When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!

If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.

Track your work, keep yourself accountable

Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.

I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.

My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.

I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).

These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.

Facilitating #Remote Retrospectives for recently distributed teams

At the time I write this blog post, there’s the #covid19 epidemic going on. What this means in practice is that many of you will have changed recently to work with a #Remote team, so we are putting together a set of resources for all of our listeners jumping, head first, into working with #Remote teams.
In this post, I’m putting together a few ideas and lessons learned on remote retrospectives, and how to get started in your #Remote work journey.

How to facilitate remote #Retrospeectives

We have an episode with Aino Corry on how to facilitate #Remote retrospectives. When it comes to facilitating a remote retrospective, Aino shares these 4 guidelines:
  1. get people to participate actively
  2. get everybody on video (if at all possible)
  3. pace them forward all the time (e.g. using strict timeboxes)
  4. use round-robin (or some other technique) to get everybody to talk
In that podcast episode, we also discuss some anti-patterns to be aware of. Listen to Aino shares her experience on hosting #Remote retrospectives.

If you are looking for a tool to facilitate #Remote retrospectives, you may be interested in checking out these tools, which all have a free plan:

Working with, and facilitating #Remote teams

Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share their experience with #Remote teams. The research work they did is available on their recently published book, and we go into the key lessons in this Scrum Master Toolbox episode on #Remote teams.
One of the key differences to co-located teams they highlight is how distributed team members need to develop their “affiliation” to each other and form a team even when they are not meeting each other in the corridor.
Mark shares a few ideas, like setting up a #water-cooler channel in your favorite chat application. My self, I love to have coffee sessions with my colleagues. Set up a calendar invite, make everyone optional, prepare a coffee cup and chat with your colleagues. 

First things first, team agreements

Whatever you do regarding #Remote retrospectives, don’t forget that your situation has just changed. It is time to set up a working agreement for the team that takes into account the fact that you are now distributed (even if you had one before, the situation has changed).
In this blog post on the Management 3.0 website, Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers, shares her own approach, and the benefits from a #Remote team working agreement session. The main takeaway is to divide work into 3 areas:
  • Information: What kind of information do you need when working with your team? What needs to be actively shared? What can be passively shared?
  • Communication: What kinds of communication do you need to setup now that you are #Remote?
  • Collaboration: How do you share progress information and offer/request help when needed?
Remember, the team is as much in a new situation as you are. Help them find their new way of working.
Stay healthy, #stayhome (if you can).

BONUS: Aino Corry on how to prepare for and facilitate for Distributed Retrospectives

Scrum Masters all over the world make a significant effort to get better at facilitating retrospectives… Until they have to host a Distributed Retrospective. At that point, we learn that all you learned about facilitating retrospectives is still useful, but not nearly enough!

Preparing, hosting, and facilitating a Distributed Retrospective is a completely different challenge.

The 4 things that you need to make Distributed Retrospectives work

Continue reading BONUS: Aino Corry on how to prepare for and facilitate for Distributed Retrospectives