Just enough preparation

I certainly won't pretend I'm an expert in remote tooling and facilitation, but the crisis forced us as consultants to come-up with solutions to keep supporting our clients with the same quality as we did before. In the last couple of weeks, I discovered so many great tools that allow us to interact with each other remotely. Actually, I like to look at this crisis as an opportunity…

When I'm facilitating physical meetings and workshops, I avoid overpreparing them, as I like to keep some room for improvisation. Often, just enough and just in time will do the trick ;) But for remote meetings and workshops, I found it useful to spend some more time on this preparation step. Here are some steps to consider when organizing a remote retrospective:

  • I normally emphasize to work on the process first before jumping into tooling. But remote working just needs proper tooling to engage people during the meeting. We use Mural and Miro, but there are other tools in the market too (e.g. google drawings, Microsoft whiteboard,…). But don't let the tool take over the meeting; you still need your process right. Remember some smart people once said "people and interactions over processes and tools".
  • You can avoid this by sending the participants the link before the meeting and ask them to do a small exercise. I used a 'find wally' image to make them familiar with the tool and its zoom function.

A typical retrospective has 5 steps

For each step in the retrospective, also think about how people will interact and respond. A typical retrospective has 5 steps:

  1. Check-in of 5 minutes
    I found it useful to start with a check-in of 5 minutes. It gets the energy in the group and it creates an atmosphere where team members can bond emotionally by talking about something off topic. In your check-in you can scan the mood of the group, asking them to vote on their current mood. In parallel, ask them to write down on a virtual sticky note "how they recharge when they are low on energy?". Websites such as https://checkin.daresay.io/ can provide you with inspiration on check-in questions.
  2. Brainstorming
    This is the ideation phase where every team member can add virtual post-its. There are plenty of techniques such as the starfish, the sailboat,… the only difference is the fact that it's on a screen instead of a white board or brown paper. Try some new techniques from time to time. Inspiration can be found on websites such as https://retromat.org/
  3. Grouping
    It's useful to have a second facilitator helping the scrum master to group similar cards together, while they are being discussed in group.
  4. Voting
    Once all the input is being discussed, give the team some time to vote on the improvements they find the most important
  5. Define actions
    By going through the cards with the highest votes first. Discuss on possible solutions, but make sure that the proposed actions are feasible to try in the next two weeks. If they are too many actions or the actions are too big, you won't see a lot of progress in the next sprint. In the end the goal is to improve incrementally, sprint by sprint.

In summary: diverge on what could be improved, then converge by selecting the most relevant improvements using a voting, diverge again on possible solutions and converge on a couple of solutions that are feasible to try in the next two weeks.

  • Another useful tip is to provide a separate area for each process step. E.g. divide your visual board into an area to brainstorm & collect input, a separate area where you prioritize based on the voting.
  • Make sure you have agreed on how people can raise questions: e.g. will they interrupt the meeting, will you use a 'raise your hand' function, ask people to use the chat to post their questions,…?

Reflection

The Agile Manifesto states: "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it". This mindset can be applied on new ways of collaborating remotely too. Don't be afraid to do it. Maybe things won't go as smooth as you'll expect, but learn from this experience and improve the next time. And share your learnings, so we can all learn from each other.

Thomas Dubois

Thomas Dubois
Agile Consultant at Threon

Contact me