My first all-remote retrospective

Posted by Marcus Hammarberg on November 29, 2017
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I agreed to do something a little bit scary, a couple of weeks back. And then it got even more interesting as new information unfolded.

My task was to facilitate a retrospective with 5-6 managers across our organization. That was a bit scary - but then I realized that they all were going to be remote. I had never done a remote retrospective before so that made it more interesting.

I didn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, but I was happy with the outcome and the format. You might find this useful too - so I thought I’d share it here.

Background

The thing we were going to retrospect was a process of writing a vision document that spanned many departments and involved many people, during about 3-4 weeks. I was not at all involved in that process, and at first, I thought that it would be a bad thing, for me as the facilitator. But it turned out being something great - because my role now very naturally fell into only facilitating.

Hey - I didn’t even take notes because that was better done by someone with the context and background.

Technology

Realizing that all attendees were going to be remote, from where I sat at least, I refrained from using any physical tools:

  • No whiteboards and drawings
  • No post-its to write and group together
  • No voting with fist-of-five (some people were on train or walking home)

We ran the whole meeting as a Google Hangout and had a great experience, thanks to a big screen, good speakers and microphone in the rooms we were in. That sounds simple but cannot be underestimated. I cannot count the number of times we have wasted time on the sound setup.

To gather the information I created a very simple Trello board that I invited the attendees to so that they could add and comment on cards. In fact - this was done in the meeting and slowed us down a little bit but not too much.

Setting the stage

Ensuring that we all had the same goal of the meeting I started off by saying that:

  • We are here to try to make the next time (making a vision document like this) better. That is our goal
  • We want to come out with concrete action that can help us to ensure that improvement.

This is something that is important regardless of being remote-only or not; make sure that you all are in agreement on why you are in the room. There are times when just talking through things is important and beneficial. For this retrospective, I kept it very improvement-action focused.

I also told the people that we were going to do this retrospective in 3 stages and that we will move focused and fast, to keep the involvement and interest high throughout.

This, I hope, made sure that we were now ready to start.

Janking memory

The first thing I did was using a little exercise that Staffan Nöteberg taught me, to evaluate presentations:

Don’t ask people to list good and bad things - just ask them for the best and the worst thing

I asked the attendees to add a card in, each of the two columns I had created on our Trello called:

  • What was the best thing that happened?
  • What was the worst thing that happened?

We spend just 2 or 3 minutes doing that, with a timer going.

I had two goals with this; first to get a list of good and bad things that we could talk around. But secondly, as we talked through the items created we also janked our memory from the work we did. How did it feel? Oh yes, that meeting was messy. Now I remember. Last weekend was very busy… Small memories came back to us.

I led a short walk-through of the items created and where needed we stopped and had some clarifying comments or question. All in all, this took about 10 minutes.

With this fresh in our minds and a bank of episodes of what happened, we moved on.

Less and More

Looking at those columns we now turned to two other columns on the same board:

  • Next time do Less of this
  • Next time do More of this

In the same manner, we just spent 2-3 minutes generating notes. Now you could add as much as possible. But this time I asked the attendees to vote on the things they thought would be most beneficial for improvements.

This took some more time, about 15-20 minutes in total. We spent some time discussing and clarify the notes, which led to the splitting and creation of new notes in some cases.

After the voting, we had 2 clear winners.

Actions, actions, actions

I moved those cards over to the last column, that I called:

Action to ensure improvements

We now rewrote and added clear actions on what we need to do in order to ensure that the improvement happened. Very concrete this was for example:

  • Have a prefilled template to start from
  • Have an up-to-date mailing list of people involved
  • Hold initial kick-off meeting to clear out questions early

This was pretty fast and only took us about 5 minutes to do. I was, at this time writing the ideas that were generated, straight into the card on the Trello-board.

Close out

The final part was ensuring that we had someone take ownership of the actions we created. That was really easy since it fell naturally within the area of two different people.

I then had a quick poll (actually did a fist-of-five here, with someone posting a number in the chat) on how the liked the format of the retrospective. I always do that, since I want to learn and improve as a facilitator too.

We said thank you and good-bye - and were done in 45 minutes flat.

Summary

This simple format and lightweight use of technology worked really well for us. The output of the retrospective was a few (3 I think) clear and improvement-focused actions.

We managed to keep the engagement and interest up during the whole retrospective and we left feeling good about the work we had done.



Published by Marcus Hammarberg on Last updated