How to do good remote retrospectives

# Introduction

Here at Viaboxx, we are an agile development team and, in our software projects, we normally use the Scrum or Kanban process. Especially in Scrum, the retrospective is, in my opinion, the most crucial meeting for the team to reflect, discuss, and improve. It is also a kind of intimate moment of honesty where we can grow as a team.

In the past, we did the retrospective together in a conference room after a scrum sprint with a whiteboard and post-its. Now, due to the current situation with COVID-19, we switched from an in-house retrospective to remote retrospectives.

During the past couple of remote retrospectives, we tried out different tools and formats. In this post, we want to give you an idea of what we have ended up with and our experiences.

# Tools we are currently using

## Confluence Cloud wiki page
We are using a private page. By default, only the scrum master has access to it to allow a good preparation. The scrum master invites all attendees to collaborate on this page during the start of the meeting and everyone opens the page in edit mode.

## Google Meet video meeting
We have been using Google Meet for internal meetings for a while and during the COVID-19 lockdown here in Germany it proved to be a good conference video service for our team. We are using it internally and externally for all meetings.

For the remote retrospective, we learned that it is good if everyone has turned on the camera on the laptop. We, humans, are communicating not only with our language but also with our mimics. Therefore it is important to discuss these intimate questions and answers not only via audio but also see the person speaking.

## RetroTool.io
Quite recently we switched to prepare the retrospective board with retrotool.io. A good retrospective digital whiteboard is important for this meeting.

We start with the Confluence page, where everyone prepares the "cards" as text on his/her machine and paste it into the page while discussing it. The scrum master would present the wiki page to all but, due to the cool new Confluence Cloud feature which allows collaboration in real-time on a page, all participants see the texts of the others directly while editing the page.

This works quite well, so, if you are fine with a format that can work on a page and want to use less technology, go for only doing it in Confluence. We also did things there that you couldn't do on a whiteboard, e.g. everyone searches for a meme that represents that last sprint for him/her. In a digital retrospective with a Confluence page, you can directly paste the meme pictures for all to see.

Nevertheless, you lose the card feeling by going for a Confluence page. You might end up with more text than on a card. You can vote with text (+1) and group stuff together, but the nice visual group of post-it cards is kind of lost as you only have text formatting.

One tool that could fix that would be, for example, Trello. Everyone can create Trello cards and use them as usual. This works fine.

Still, we ended up with using retrotool.io instead of Trello. Retrotool allows you to easily prepare the format beforehand, share the board link in the conference call, and have everyone start collaborating.

You can prepare cards in your private section, color them already if you like, and drag them to the public section when it is your turn. The good thing here is that cards can have text as long as a 140 character tweet. You can vote on them, group them visually, and color them as well. You can even use a timer on the tool so that everyone sees the "clock" ticking down, as you would see it with a visible timer clock in the room.

These features improved the collaboration between team members and gave back a bit of the feeling of moving cards on a whiteboard.

# Conclusion

Just as usual, there are a lot of ways of how to do a good remote retrospective. I presented here our experiences at Viaboxx. We are currently quite happy with the way we are doing our remote retrospectives, but as we know from retrospectives, there is always room for improvement.

The current situation with COVID-19 is, in my opinion, no excuse to stop doing retrospectives, especially as those are such a crucial meeting in the scrum process. If you are working in an agile team, you should always embrace change and maybe use the situation to test out, as a team, what alternative retrospective styles make sense for you.

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