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
I am a big believer in continuous improvement, weather that be in the form of Retrospectives, a Kaizen approach, or something else that helps the team reflect regularly. But for the earlier years of my career as a Scrum Master I found myself frustrated by a lack of improvement despite all this reflection (retrospectives that have no impact…).
Often,what I was seeing was that we talked about the problems the team was facing, and then didn’t follow-through with the actions we agreed to take.
When we tried to change our behavior. We might have succeeded for a day or two and then would forget about it. This isn’t continuous improvement this is just continuous discussion!
We need a good way to make sure we are actually making the change we set out to make!
We like to keep our retrospectives fresh. We find it helps to reveal things we might not otherwise have found if we alter the format frequently. With this goal in mind, we follow a simple system:
Once a month we use our ”normal” retro format. Everyone in the team is familiar with this, and we can perform them quite quickly, with minimal prep work and explanation required. Basically, effective with very little admin.
Once a month we have our ”experimental” retrospective. A little more set-up time required, but a good opportunity for experimentation and explorations.
This is the story of one such retrospective.
Obviously, you can perform many Agile practices, but not be Agile. However, there are a lot of practices out there and sometimes teams can become focused solely on those that they are currently using, rather than looking at other tools they might bring to bear. This is where the Agile Practices Retrospective comes in.
In preparation for the retrospective, we created cards with various Agile practices as headlines, and a brief explanation of each listed on it. I also color coded them under various categories so they could be more easily identified from afar. Then we simply taped all these cards to a wall in their respective categories. There were about 50 cards in all.
With over 50 cards, there was a lot of information. We split into groups and started categorizing the cards under a new set of headings, it was made clear to all that they were not expected to read all the cards.
Doing (Working Well): Things we are currently doing, and quite happy with the way they currently work.
Doing (Could be better): Things we are currently practicing but could use improvement.
Not doing (By choice): Things we are not currently practicing, but have made a choice not to use in our context.
Not doing (Not tried): Things we are not doing, and have never really tried.
WTF!?!: We have no idea what this is, or what it means.
Deciding what to focus on
We obviously cannot talk about all these things. So, we used dot voting to decide what topics to focus on. Each team member was given 3 ”dots” for each of these types of vote:
We should start and or alter this practice in some way. (Indicated by a dot)
We would like to learn more about this practice. (Indicated by a +)
I also printed out simple list versions of the same information, as I knew it would be hard for everyone to gather around the board when deciding how to use their votes. Despite this, this was still not as successful as we would have hoped. Part of this is because we are actually two teams and our 3 customer representatives, so the whiteboard was too crowded. I feel this would go better with a single team.
Discussions and action points
We had open discussions and tried to create action points/experiments around the topics we had discussed. I will just give a very brief of what we arrived at:
Root Cause Analysis/ 5 Why’s
We even arrived at the fact that without formal tools, we are still quite good at root cause analysis. But perhaps a formal tool might reveal something we would have otherwise been unaware of.
Experiments: 1)Focus on using our discussion time during retrospectives (Generate Insight) to use more formal tools like 5 why’s.
2) When events are added to our timeline at daily stand-ups, then we should also consider doing a more in-depth analysis of those items.
Discussion: We felt that we very likely do have a product vision, and even a fair amount of impact mapping done for that, but this is not communicated to the entire team at a frequent enough rate. Also, we need to get better at following up these things.
Experiments: 1)Make the product vision more concrete and communicate it at a regular interval.
2)Follow the vision and impact map up at a regular interval.
Behaviour Driven Development (BDD):
Discussion: This is a discussion point we wanted to learn more about. So, the discussion was brief. We basically arrived at the fact that it was intriguing and we want to know more.
Experiments: 1)The two team members who know something on the subject will provide some links and a quick intro for everyone else.
2) Some of the team will experiment with these concepts in our ”Brain Day” next week.
This retrospective was reviewed well by the team, everyone generally liked it.
It was a fairly active retrospective, because of all the moving things around and working in teams, so the energy level remained high throughout.
Probably the best aspect of this retrospective was the addition of fresh concepts into the team, the idea to focus on things we wanted to learn more about was a good one. In the future, we would probably recommend only focusing on these things.
There was a fair amount of prep work involved in this one, although I consider it worth the investment, it wasn’t free. Hopefully, a bit cheaper for you, as we have provided the work we have done. Once again: https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6
It was too hard to get an overview with so many items, this may have been due to team size, and might have been possible to mitigate by having the team read the list beforehand.
Despite there being so many items, the list was not even close to exhaustive, and it was hard to leave off some practices that really should have been included.
Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organizations both small and large.
Jeff is also involved in the Agile community and is one of the founding members of Gothenburg Sweden’s largest agile community at 1500+ members , and he also organizes the yearly conference www.brewingagile.org.
How do we learn how the system affects our teams? We study the system and the effects on our teams. And how do we do that? Why, retrospectives of course! Karthik shares his recipe for frequent retrospectives and suggests: turn every Friday into a retrospective day.
About Karthik Nagarajan
Karthik has worked as a Product Manager, Scrum Master and QA Manager across a variety of domains, including: Fintech, Travel, Human Capital Management, CRM, Recruitment, Insurance, Banking and Financial Services. He loves tackling complex business challenges and being a positive bridge between Product, Design, Engineering, Quality Assurance, Customers and Business Teams.
Woody Zuill discusses systems, and tools to help us understand the system. We also discuss how important retrospectives are, and how to go about increasing the amount, and value of your retrospectives: Just-In-Time retrospectives.
About Woody Zuill
Woody Zuill, an independent Agile Consultant, Trainer, Coach, and Guide and has been programming computers for 30+ years. As a pioneer of the Mob Programming approach of teamwork for software development he has been sharing presentations and workshops on Mob Programming for conferences, user groups, and companies all over the world. He is considered one of the founders of the “#NoEstimates” discussion on Twitter.
You can connect with Woody Zuill on LinkedIn or contact Woody Zuill on Twitter.
If you are interested, check the MobProgramming conference.
The three tools we discuss and describe in this episode are: One-on-One meetings between the Scrum Master and team members; Lab Time: how we learn together; Retrospectives: learning about how we can work better.
About Angel Medinilla
Ángel Medinilla (Spain, 1973) has 18+ years working experience in the ICT market. In 2007 he started his own Agile Consulting firm. Today, Proyectalis is considered the leading Agile consulting and coaching company in Spain, and one of the most well-known in Europe and Latin America,
He is a regular speaker at Agile conferences all over the world
He is the author of Agile Management (Springer) and “Agile Kaizen: Continuous Improvement Far Beyond Retrospectives’ (Springer). He also contributed to Beyond Agile: Stories of Agile Transformations, (Modus Cooperandi).
In 2015 he co-founded Improvement21, whose goal is to bring the continuous improvement habit to all kind of organizations in order to create better cultures, teams, processes and products.
You can connect with Angel Medinilla on LinkedIn, and contact Angel Medinilla on Twitter.
How we measure success in our roles as Scrum Masters must include some metrics, and must include interaction with the team and stakeholders we work with. Ryan explains his approach and the tools he uses to measure his own success.
About Ryan Ripley
Ryan Ripley loves helping people do great work. He is a servant leader at heart and is passionate about fostering safety and trust in the workplace. Ryan created the Agile for Humans podcast to put the focus back on the individuals and interactions that make agile work.
You can link up with Ryan Ripley on LinkedIn and connect with Ryan Ripley on Twitter.
Ryan also hosts a popular Agile podcast: Agile for Humans. Be sure to check it out!
Retrospectives are one of the practices that gets the most attention on the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast. They get attention because they are important engines of improvement for the teams we work with. Jovan explains some of the practices he uses to facilitate retrospectives in a way that supports the change that is needed.
In this episode we talk about Gamestorming by Dave Gray, a book that helps us create new exercises to help facilitate retrospectives.
About Jovan Vidic
Jovan Vidić is an Agile Practitioner who repeatedly finds passion and inspiration in his job. He calls himself a people person, and when he had an opportunity to lead a team at the age of 24, that experience transformed him into an advocate of the self-organization, which does not impose limits on the thinking, working and creative processes of the team members, but on the contrary, it drives them to jointly contribute and prosper. This is actually the goal of the group Agile Coaching Serbia he founded in Novi Sad Serbia in 2014.
You can connect with Jovan Vidic on LinkedIn and connect with Jovan Vidic on Twitter.
Retrospectives are both important and hard to get right. There are many teams that stop having retrospectives and feel lost as to how to run them effectively. Niko shares with us his own view of how to run effective retrospectives, filled with tips and advice, this is a must listen episode about retrospectives.