Can you adapt any activity for a remote retrospective?

Some people would like to have a filter for Retromat that shows only remote activities, i.e. activities that work with distributed teams when team members are not in the same room together.

Thinking about this request, I decided to internally flag activities as “remote-friendly” or “not remote-friendly” as a first step, just for myself. And then, kind of all the ones I looked at (about 10) I could easily turn into a remote activitiy – except for a few obvious exceptions. There are some activities in which “being together in a physical space” is their defining idea such as:

Take a walk
Constellation
Take a stand

The others were fair game. That was a while ago and back then I decided that if 97% of activities can be converted, a filter doesn’t make sense.

But, what if I was wrong? Let’s check this again: I’ll take the first randomly generated plan and turn its activities into remote activities. I opened Retromat the random plan was: https://retromat.org/en/?id=84-89-25-11-92

WARNING: Do not use these activities together. In fact, never just use a random plan. Go through it and switch out activities so that the plan as a whole makes sense. Think about how the output of one activity becomes the input for the next.

Okay, here we go:

Last Retro’s Actions Table (#84)

Create a table with 5 columns. The first column lists last retro’s action items. The other columns are headed ‘More of’, ‘Keep doing’, ‘Less of’ and ‘Stop doing’. Participants place 1 sticky note per row into the column that states how they want to proceed with that action. Afterwards facilitate a short discussion for each action, e.g. asking:

  • Why should we stop doing this?
  • Why is it worth to go further?
  • Are our expectations satisfied?
  • Why do opinions vary that much?

Okay, this one is easy: Create a Google Spreadsheet with the table. Ask the question on the (video) call.

NOTE: At my employer we use the Google Suite. Obviously you can use whatever your company is already using to collaborate remotely.

Retro Wedding (#89)
Collect examples for something old, new, borrowed and blue

Analogue to an anglo-american wedding custom ask the team to give examples for the following categories:

  • Something Old
    Positive feedback or constructive criticism on established practice
  • Something New
    Positive feedback or constructive criticism on experiments in progress
  • Something Borrowed
    Tool/idea from another team, the Web or yourself for a potential experiment
  • Something Blue
    Any blocker or source of sadness

One example per sticky note. There’s only one rule: If someone contributes to the ‘Something Blue’ column, s/he must also have a positive comment in at least 1 other column.

Everyone posts their stickies in the appropriate column on the board and describes it briefly.

Again, very easy: Spreadsheet. I’d still have the round of writing out stickies separately and only afterwards type it out again in the spreadsheet. This way everybody has time to think and does something more with their hands than typing.

I’d also add a photo for each category in the spreadsheet, to make it a little more visceral. Maybe play Mendelsohn’s wedding march, just to involve as many senses as I can.

Cause-Effect-Diagram (#25)

Write the problem you want to explore on a sticky note and put it in the middle of a whiteboard. Find out why that is a problem by repeatedly asking ‘So what?’. Find out the root causes by repeatedly asking ‘Why (does this happen)?’ Document your findings by writing more stickies and showing causal relations with arrows. Each sticky can have more than one reason and more than one consequence
Vicious circles are usually good starting points for actions. If you can break their bad influence, you can gain a lot.

Finally, a challenge. Hm, tricky. This one is definitely much easier with everyone in the same room. Can’t immediately think of a good collaborative software to do this. I’d probably pick a different activity.

On second glance, UML is similar. So is there a collaborative UML-tool? Yep.

Creately.com and Sketchboard.me both look promising. I’d ask 1 colleague to try those out with me and then pick the better one. And I’d have a fallback activity in case the tool turns out to have problems e.g. with too many users.

Circle of Questions (#11)

Everyone sits in a circle. Begin by stating that you’ll go round asking questions to find out what you want to do as a group. You start by asking your neighbor the first question, e.g. ‘What is the most important thing we should start in the next iteration?’ Your neighbor answers and asks her neighbor a related question. Stop when consensus emerges or the time is up. Go around at least once, so that everybody is heard!

This one might be confusing, because there’s no effortlessly obvious order like when sitting in a circle. I’d prepare a list of participants’ names to give the order and then be very curious if that is enough to keep the questions going.

Motivational Poster (#92)

Take each of your action items and create a funny poster for it (see the photos for examples).

Pick an image
Agree on a title
Write a self-mocking description

Print your master piece as big as possible (A4 at the very least) and display it prominently.

Well, there’s poster generators online. Are some people co-located? Let them work together. In the end everybody posts their poster in Slack or Hipchat or wherever.

Conclusion

This was actually more difficult than expected. The first two activities are super straightforward. The third one is convertable but I wouldn’t pick it for a remote retro. The last two are similar, possible but not obvious choices. Maybe instead of a “yes/no”-filter a “remote-friendly/remote-possible/remote-no” is more appropriate. Drop me a note if your company would like to sponsor that feature 🙂

Take it with a grain of salt: I’ve never facilitated a remote retro in my life. If I did I might find out that it’s not as straightforward as I lay it out above. But I’d feel confident enough to try.

My interviews about remote retros made it sound doable. What’s your experience with adapting activities for distributed retros?